Raybestos Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Regan Smith (12th)*, Juan Pablo Montoya (36th), David Ragan (41st), and A.J. Allmendinger (43rd).
Rookie of the Race: Regan Smith. Last week, we heard a lot about top rookie Juan Pablo Montoya mixing it up with the lead pack all day. This week, Regan Smith turned in the best rookie performance in exact opposite fashion; his name was barely mentioned. Smith kept his nose clean, stayed out of everyone's way and brought home a solid Top 25 finish (25th). In fact, the U.S. Army driver was the only rookie not to be involved in an on-track incident; at least, until after the checkered flag, when a postrace incident with other cars caused him to accidentally slide into a tangle with Kurt Busch.
Note: The official Raybestos Rookie Of The Race was David Ragan, who finished in 26th place.
Tony’s Take: The day wasn't perfect for Regan, who was penalized one lap for pitting outside the box during the day's second caution, ending what was a Top 20 run. However, with this being the only negative for a driver making his Nextel Cup debut on one of the circuit's most difficult tracks, I would say this performance qualifies as a good day at the office for the No. 01 bunch. I know it's still early, but I wish this kid was able to run for Raybestos Rookie of the Year, as there is some great potential here.
Rocky Rookie Performance: Juan Pablo Montoya. Sure, A. J. Allmendinger finished lower, but it appeared that Montoya was busy making more enemies on the track (justified or not). The Texaco Havoline Dodge was involved in the day's third and fourth cautions, not to mention some near misses. This week's rocky performance is proof that neither the Indy 500 nor the most challenging Formula One road courses in the world can prepare a driver for the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Rookie Wreck Of The Day: This could easily be the rookie wrecks of the day, however, the most heartbreaking clearly goes to David Ragan's crash in the race's closing laps. Ragan survived two earlier spins and kept his Ford off the wall by using some nifty maneuvers fit for the AAA driver safety course, but with only a handful of laps remaining, the No. 6 car tangled with Kasey Kahne, sending Ragan into the wall and ending his bid for a Top 25 finish.
Who Wasn’t Here?: David Reutimann and Paul Menard. The roller coaster season continues for Reutimann as MWR struggles to find speed and consistency with the new Camry. Adding insult to injury, it appeared that the No. 00 team could not take advantage of the great equalizer, the CoT, that helped fellow Toyota teams of Allmendinger and Jeremy Mayfield make their first races of the year.
After missing the Daytona 500, Menard's team appeared to be making a solid run at the top 35 in points. Instead, the Bristol DNQ will now serve as a huge setback in terms of points and momentum that the third DEI team was gaining. Menard will once again have to qualify on speed next week in Martinsville.
Rookie Quote of the Week:
An excerpt from Juan Pablo Montoya's post-race interview:
Q: This is a physically demanding track on the driver. What did you think of your first Nextel Cup race at Bristol?
"It was pretty easy, to be honest."
Reviewing J.P.'s weekend at Bristol:
First Practice: 39th
Second Practice: 24th
Happy Hour: 42nd
Race: 32nd, seven laps down, after 2 wrecks
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Juan Pablo Montoya 57
David Ragan 57
Paul Menard 32
David Reutimann 27
A.J. Allmendinger 13
Brandon Whitt 3
Next Up: If the Nextel Cup rookies think things will get easier next week, they better think again as the series heads to Martinsville, Virginia for the Goody's Cool Orange 500. This paper clip shaped track presents an entire new set of challenges for this year's rookie crop as they try to navigate the tight corners of the circuit's shortest track. David Ragan can inform his fellow rookies about what not to do as he inadvertently ticked off half the field en route to a 25th place finish during last Fall's race. It will also be round two for the Car of Tomorrowâ€¦make that Today, as we will find out what these first timers, along with the rest of the field, learned from their Bristol lesson.
* Regan Smith is not running for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year because of his part-time status for the 2007 season. However, for purposes of this piece, if you have a yellow stripe on your rear bumper, you are considered a rookie and fortunate enough to have me write about you each week.
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