The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report : Texas Terrible Track For Montoya, Other Freshmen by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday November 4, 2007

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (3rd), A.J. Allmendinger (5th), Paul Menard (16th), David Ragan (33rd), David Reutimann (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Juan Pablo Montoya (25th), Paul Menard (30th), David Ragan (37th), A.J. Allmendinger (39th), David Reutimann (43rd)

Juan Pablo Montoya had an “eh” kind of day, coming home 25th; but it was still enough to make him the race’s highest-finishing rookie.

Rookie of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya…barely. Montoya has enjoyed a good amount of his non-road course success on quad ovals this year, and at one point in time, it appeared this weekend's race at Texas would be no different. The Colombian started the event from the inside of row two and by lap seven, he had his Texaco Havoline Dodge comfortably in the lead. Although the top spot was relinquished to Jeff Gordon during pit stops on lap 16, the rookie would still make his presence felt in the Top 10 for the majority of the race’s first quarter. A loose condition would start to plague the No. 42 Charger after that, leaving Montoya sliding backwards but still in contention for a good finish with the right adjustments. However, an ill-handling car would turn out to be the least of this team's problems; their engine dropped a cylinder just before the Lap 200 mark, and a cracked valve head left Montoya simply trying to limp the car home in one piece. Nursing his ride to a 25th place result, it was perhaps the least impressive of his series leading 15 top rookie finishes.

Tony's Take: Montoya's strong performance early was the only thing that kept me from not awarding a Rookie Of The Race altogether. Montoya beat his accident-plagued counterparts by simply surviving until the end, and his mechanical woes halted what was shaping up to be one of the driver’s better runs of 2007. Sunday's race accounted for 10 of the 26 laps Montoya has led all season; that’s even more than the seven he led en route to his first career victory at Sonoma. It may be small consolation now, but look for this team to carry what little momentum they gained from "what might have been" into the final two events of the year. They include Phoenix, a flat track similar to Indianapolis – where Montoya finished second in July – and Homestead, the site of his Nextel Cup debut a year ago, where a respectable run was ended by the first of what’s been many altercations with Ryan Newman.

Rocky Rookie Performances / Rookie Wrecks of the Day: Everybody else. Where do I begin? A.J. Allmendinger looked like he would continue his hot streak in style with a fifth place qualifying effort. However, early contact with Denny Hamlin was the first of many things to go wrong with the rookie's race. Seemingly annoyed that this incident did not bring out a much-needed caution, Allmendinger slapped the turn two wall on lap 21, which did bring out the event's second yellow flag. Now ticked that he no longer had a competitive car, the Californian eventually ended his day altogether when he last control of his Camry coming off of turn two, hitting the inside wall in the process. I'm not saying that Allmendinger intentionally wrecked his car, but after the day he had, could you blame him if this were the case?

David Reutimann also fell victim of early contact from another machine when his competitors got bunched up ahead of him on pit road. Soon thereafter, the engine on the Burger King Camry let go, relegating Reutimann to finish in the same position he began the day in … last.

Keeping the trend alive, Paul Menard also suffered early misery when he lost control of the Menards Chevy and backed it into the wall, bringing out the race’s first caution. His name would hardly be mentioned again for the rest of the day, coming home a dismal 30th, twelve laps off the pace.

Finally, David Ragan must have thought it was his lucky day when his Ford Fusion remained in one piece after the first 20 laps of the race. In fact, the Georgian was quietly maneuvering his No. 6 car through the pack, poised for a top rookie finish, when all hell broke loose ahead of him on lap 220. Casey Mears and Tony Stewart made contact in turn two, sending both into the spin cycle and blocking the track for those competitors behind them. One of those unlucky men was Ragan, who was one of the innocent victims in this calamity. The incident would end his day with a disappointing DNF and accompanying 37th place finish.

Who Wasn't Here?: Burney Lamar.
Sam Hornish, Jr. took a week off from this category. No, he didn't make the race; he just didn't attempt it altogether. Instead, Burney Lamar, attempting to make his first career Nextel Cup start with E&M Motorsports, became Hornish’s one-week replacement. However, it wasn't NASCAR's much despised Top 35 rule that kept Lamar from making the field. He was just slow … plain and simple, much farther off from making the cut than his time at Atlanta one race ago.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
In this week's quote segment, David Ragan tries to make sense of the incident that ended his day. However, more noteworthy is his analysis of how the car was handling. Note the patience that was being displayed by this young rookie, something we didn't always see earlier in 2007. This is a sign of maturity, experience, and that the best is yet to come from the Roush Fenway driver.

"I don't know. I just saw everyone checking up. My spotter even said ‘Hey, the bottom lane is checking up.' We were on the outside and before I knew it, I don't know if I got drilled in the back or just checked up too quick and lost it. It's just very unfortunate for the AAA team. Everyone worked really hard. I thought we had a pretty good car. I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

Q: Was your car getting better?
"The track was really slick at first, and you just had to be really easy with the throttle. You couldn't overdrive it. Like I said, our car would drive pretty good on the bottom and it had good speed, and we were just kind of making our way up to the front slowly but surely. I felt like we had a Top 10 or Top 15 car when we wrecked. I really don't know what happened. I just need to see a replay."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 243
Ragan 222
Menard 197
Reutimann 177
Allmendinger 161

Next Up: The series heads to the desert southwest to revisit Phoenix International Raceway for the second time this year. The first trip to the Arizona track was not pleasant for the rookies, as they tried to tackle one of the more unique tracks on the circuit at one of the first Car of Tomorrow events. Paul Menard, the top-finishing rookie, was only a subpar 25th. Expect better results this time now that teams have had numerous CoT races under their belts. I would also think that all five Rookie of the Year Candidates will be back with a vengeance after a pathetic showing at Texas.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: If it weren't for his strong showing before losing a cylinder, I'd almost feel bad about giving myself credit for correctly choosing Juan Pablo Montoya as the top finishing rookie … almost. Still, Montoya was able to best his rookie rivals by simply surviving and coming home 25th.

You Make The Pick: Thirty-Six percent of you thought that A.J. Allmendinger would continue his strong performances on quad ovals. It looked good early, as Allmendinger qualified a career best fifth. However, the Red Bull team ran into problems right from the start and could not muster another top rookie performance. We are now tied with only two to go – so the pressure is on!

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie: Roush Fenway Racing's CoT program has shown vast improvement in the second half of the year. I think David Ragan will benefit from this improved performance and best the rest of the rookies this Sunday.

Event Track Tony’s Pick Finish Reader’s Pick Finish Top Finishing Rookie Finish
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Phoenix David Ragan 41st —- —- Paul Menard 25th
Aaron’s 499 Talladega David Reutimann 32nd —- —- David Ragan 17th
Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 Richmond Paul Menard 16th Juan Pablo Montoya 26th Paul Menard 16th
Dodge Avenger 500 Darlington Juan Pablo Montoya 23rd Paul Menard 31st Juan Pablo Montoya 23rd
Coca-Cola 600 Charlotte Juan Pablo Montoya 28th No Pick DNS Juan Pablo Montoya 28th
Autism Speaks 400 Dover David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th
Pocono 500 Pocono A.J. Allmendinger 39th David Ragan 26th Juan Pablo Montoya 20th
Citizens Bank 400 Michigan David Ragan 21st David Ragan 21st Paul Menard 12th
Toyota / Save Mart 350 Infineon Juan Pablo Montoya 1st Juan Pablo Montoya 1st Juan Pablo Montoya 1st
Lenox Industrial Tools 300 New Hampshire Paul Menard 39th David Reutimann 38th David Ragan 15th
Pepsi 400 Daytona David Reutimann 26th David Ragan 12th David Ragan 12th
USG Sheetrock 400 Chicagoland Paul Menard 42nd David Ragan 25th Juan Pablo Montoya 15th
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd
Pennsylvania 500 Pocono David Ragan 33rd Juan Pablo Montoya 16th Juan Pablo Montoya 16th
Centurion Boats At The Glen Watkins Glen Juan Pablo Montoya 39th Juan Pablo Montoya 39th Ron Fellows 4th
3M Performance 400 Michigan David Reutimann 23rd David Ragan 18th David Ragan 18th
Sharpie 500 Bristol David Reutimann DNQ David Ragan 41st Juan Pablo Montoya 17th
Sharp Aquos 500 California Paul Menard 24th Juan Pablo Montoya 33rd David Ragan 12th
Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400 Richmond David Ragan 3rd Paul Menard 26th David Ragan 3rd
Sylvania 300 New Hampshire David Reutimann 26th David Ragan 19th David Ragan 19th
Dodge Dealers 400 Dover David Ragan 25th David Ragan 25th Juan Pablo Montoya 10th
Lifelock 400 Kansas David Reutimann 31st David Ragan 16th David Ragan 16th
UAW-Ford 500 Talladega David Reutimann 22nd David Ragan 34th Juan Pablo Montoya 15th
Subway 500 Martinsville David Reutimann 17th David Reutimann 17th Juan Pablo Montoya 8th
Pep Boys Auto 500 Atlanta A.J. Allmendinger 16th Sam Hornish, Jr. DNQ A.J. Allmendinger 16th
Dickies 500 Texas Juan Pablo Montoya 25th A.J. Allmendinger 39th Juan Pablo Montoya 25th

Season Scorecard: Tony 8, Readers 8.

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