The Frontstretch: Rating The Rookies: Samsung 500 by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday April 15, 2007

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Rating The Rookies: Samsung 500

Tony Lumbis · Sunday April 15, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup (Due to inclement weather, the Samsung 500 lineup was set according to 2007 owner points): Juan Pablo Montoya (16th), David Ragan (19th), Paul Menard (42nd).

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Juan Pablo Montoya (8th), Paul Menard (15th), David Ragan (39th).

Rookie of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya once again proved to be a quick study on the mile and half quad-ovals, as he brought home the Texaco Havoline Dodge in 8th place after running in the Top 20 for a majority of the day. On this particular Sunday, Montoya's driving talent played second fiddle to his ability to overcome adversity. Near the race's halfway point, shortly after breaking into the top 10 for the first time, Montoya stopped his Dodge Charger too close to pit wall during a routine stop, dropping him to the back of the lead lap in 17th. After fighting back into the Top 10, Lady Luck once again attempted to dash the rookie's hopes of a strong finish after he tangled with Tony Stewart, sending both the No. 20 and Smoke’s temper spinning out of control. Montoya and team charged on, however, staying calm to bring home their second Top 10 of the season.

Tony’s Take: It was hard to ignore Paul Menard's best run of the year; however, Juan Pablo Montoya's performance at a track he barely knew existed before this weekend easily made him the Rookie of the Race. The only comparison I can think of between the ovals of Texas and Atlanta and such famed courses as Monza and Monaco is the exquisite cuisine served at each venue (we know this thanks to the lunch update provided by the FOX broadcasters). For whatever reason, though, the two Bruton Smith owned tracks appear to suit Montoya's driving skills perfectly.

Aside from the success, observers should take note a disturbing trend; the current ROTY leader has been making enemies at almost every track over the past several weeks. This week's incident may have the biggest ramifications. Montoya angered Tony Stewart, who has been known to have a bit of a temper problem and a good memory – a potentially dangerous combination. I'm not sure who started the battle that ultimately ended in Stewart's Monte Carlo becoming a Texas-sized roadblock, but one thing is for sure, Agent Orange will be seeing red every time the No. 42 Dodge is in his sights for many races to come.

While on the topic of Montoya, I would also like to offer kudos to Chip Ganassi, Felix Sabates and the entire Texaco Havoline team for recognizing the accomplishments of arguably the most famous No. 42 in sports, Jackie Robinson. Sixty years this past weekend, Robinson became the first African-American play in Major League baseball, helping open the door for all minorities in sports. Ganassi Racing, with co-owner Felix Sabates (Cuban born) and Montoya (Colombian born), provides a perfect example of how Robinson's efforts have paid off across all sports, and recognizing this moment in history was a class act by the entire organization.

Rocky Rookie Performance/Rookie Wreck of the Day: David Ragan. No need to separate categories this week as Ragan wrecked on lap one, giving him the distinction of finishing worst among the rookies. The AAA driver was definitely not the icon for safe driving this week, as Ragan pushed the envelope too far coming out of turn four, lost control of his car, hit J.J. Yeley and created a chain reaction resulting in Ricky Rudd's Snickers Ford landing on top of the No. 6 hood. Just as Ragan was stringing together enough solid finishes to propel him into the ROTY points lead, he reminded us that he is still, in fact, a rookie with much more to learn. After the wreck, Yeley referred to the incident as a "stupid move" on Ragan's part. While this may be a correct assessment, it was interesting to note how quickly the unforgiving sophomore driver forgot about his own rookie struggles just one short year ago.

Who Wasn’t Here?: David Reutimann and A.J. Allmendinger. The top 35 rule has haunted these drivers in more ways than one. Forty-fifth and Forty-eighth in owners points respectively coming into Texas, both teams were on the outside looking in as weather prevented either driver from even making a qualifying attempt. Missing the show meant ending a streak of two straight races for Allmindinger, who was desperately searching for anything that resembles momentum this season. The good news for these two drivers who are looking to get back on track is that next week's race at Phoenix is a Car of Tomorrow event, which, based on past experience, has really benefited Team Toyota.

Rookie Quote of the Week:

One of the most important goals for rookie drivers in their first season is to learn from their mistakes, of which there were many. David Ragan reflects on the lessons learned from his early incident in the Samsung 500:

"I was just coming out of Turn 4 and the AAA Ford Fusion felt really good through 1 and 2. I basically ran out of racetrack, ran out of room. The 18, I thought I had him cleared, and he got a run on me up off of Turn 4. I was on the throttle and he was there and I'm sorry that I ruined his day and a lot of other guys. I should have just backed out of it. I didn't know he had that good run. I thought I might have had him cleared. I'm sorry to tear up a lot of racecars right there but we'll rebound and get ‘em next week."

Q: It looked like you were going to drive away with minimal damage and then cars started piling in on you.

"Yeah, we were going to be just fine. I should have never gotten turned around and we wouldn't be talking about it right now. Certainly we were hanging in there through the grass and then just a big mess behind me."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Montoya 81
Ragan 77
Menard 43
David Reutimann 37
AJ Allmendinger 22
Brandon Whitt 3

Next Up: The Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be the first Saturday night points race and the third CoT, (a.k.a. Car of Right Now On A Limited Schedule or "CARNOALS" as our managing editor labeled it) event. The track's unique one-mile configuration combined with the tricky schedule of staring under the sun and finishing at night makes the CoT one of the few elements of familiarity for the rookie class, believe it or not. The race in the desert will force these drivers to think beyond how their car is handling now and anticipate what adjustments will be needed to stay ahead of the changing track conditions as darkness falls. The one who does this the best will be the top finishing rookie this Saturday night.

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie: Speaking of top finishing rookie, I am introducing a new piece to this article in which I will make my prediction of who the top finishing freshman will be in the following race, with a brief explanation of why. Yes, this means I will be making my choice before I even know who qualifies and who does not. (Pretty gutsy considering what's on the line, huh? What's on the line you ask? My pride…well, that’s not so not much, really).

Next week, I'm picking David Ragan to finish highest among the rookie class. This team turned in two solid performances during the previous CARNOLS (CoT) races, and Ragan has a Top 20 finish at Phoenix from the Truck Series last year. This rookie is out to prove himself after crashing on the first lap at Texas; expect him to do so next week.

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