Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Reutimann (25th), David Ragan (32nd), Paul Menard (33rd), Juan Pablo Montoya (36th).
Unofficial Finishing Positions: Paul Menard (25th), David Reutimann (32nd), Juan Pablo Montoya (33rd), David Ragan (41st).
Rookie of the Race: Paul Menard. Avoid trouble and don't beat yourself were the basic rules for success in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, and Paul Menard followed them almost perfectly. At first, it appeared that the Menards / Johns Manville team was headed for a long night when they found themselves one lap down very early in the race. Luckily, the first caution could not have come out at a better time for Menard as he was in position for the "free pass," allowing him back on the lead lap and back into contention. The team could not capitalize on their gift, however, as the leader would quickly pass Menard once again in the ensuing green flag run; he would stay off the lead lap for the remainder of the night, running within his means and simply trying to stay out of trouble. The biggest challenge for the Wisconsin native after that was fending off fellow rookie Juan Pablo Montoya's bonzai move going into turn one on a restart within 100 laps to go of the finish. Menard kept control of his car and his cool after receiving a healthy dose of Montoya's right front fender, bringing home the team's second consecutive Top 25 finish to show for his efforts.
Tony's Take: Menard's performance on Saturday can be labeled as the best of the worst, as all four of the race's rookie contenders turned in less than stellar performances. Still, Menard and company can feel good about their race team, not just because of finishing as the top rookie at Phoenix, but due to the mini-streak that they are on as of late. After missing the two previous Car of Tomorrow races at Bristol and Martinsville, the No. 15 team has stormed back with a vengeance, finishing a season-high 15th at Texas and now besting the rookie class in the desert. Menard has to feel good about his chances going into Talladega, his first opportunity this year to test D.E.I.'s traditionally strong superspeedway program after missing the Daytona 500. If this trend of strong finishes continues, Teresa Earnhardt may just want to consider offering Menard 51% ownership of the team instead of Dale, Jr.. That probably would happen, too, if it weren't for one small problem: reality.
Rocky Rookie Performance / Rookie Wreck of the Day: David Ragan. For the second consecutive week, Ragan has the dreadful distinction of sweeping both these categories in the rookie report. On a positive note, Ragan's car stayed in one piece for about 43 more laps this week than it did at Texas. Already a lap down at that point, Ragan was trying to hold his line going into turn one on the outside of Jimmie Johnson when Tony Stewart sandwiched the No. 6 car in the middle. There was simply not enough room for Ragan's Fusion and Stewart's Impala as the two touched, sending the No. 6 car into the spin cycle, collecting David Stremme and Casey Mears in the wreckage. Just a few short weeks ago, Ragan was leading the heavy favorite Montoya in the ROTY standings with four top rookie finishes. Now, like his races of late, the AAA team's season is starting to spin out of control.
Tony’s Take: If AAA is looking to create a new brochure on unsafe driving practices, they need to look no further than their driver's shaky performances of late. Being the loyal sponsor man that he is, I'm sure all Ragan is trying to do is show AAA members firsthand what driving techniques to avoid for the betterment of us all, right? Yeah, and Menard should have that majority stake in DEI wrapped up by next week, too. In Ragan's defense, however, race fans should recall one of Tony Stewart's multiple reasons for being so upset at Montoya at Texas last week: Making it three-wide on a restart with a lot of racing left to go. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Who Wasn't Here?: A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger got a bum deal last week, as mother nature took the rookie driver's qualifying fate completely out of his hands. This week, the Red Bull driver and in fact the entire team hurt themselves, as neither Allmendinger nor teammate Brian Vickers made the field at Phoenix. This is somewhat surprising as Toyota, Team Red Bull, and especially Allmendinger enjoyed their strongest runs of the year at the previous two CoT races. OK, so I'm counting simply making the race as a good run for this rookie driver, as success has been few and far for him in 2007. Allmendinger and company will try to stop their second DNQ slide of the year next week at Talladega, perhaps by reaching out to fellow Toyota team Michael Waltrip Racing for their expertise on this type of racetrack (probably the only time anyone, anywhere in the NASCAR community can actually make that statement regarding MWR right now).
Rookie Quote of the Week:
Juan Pablo Montoya on the moving past the incidents with Tony Stewart at Texas:
Q: Is everything okay with you and Tony Stewart?
"Yeah, we're cool. The thing is the press makes a fuss out of everything and we don't. He's okay with it, I'm okay with it, you guys are not. I don't care."
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Brandon Whitt 2
Next Up: The second superspeedway event of the year is up next for the Nextel Cup Series, as the teams will head to Talladega, Alabama for the Aaron's 499. Normal qualifying procedures and the absence of pressure to qualify for the Daytona 500 will present a different set of circumstances for the rookie class than when they were last at a restrictor plate race back in February. While avoiding the "Big One" will be a main goal for the freshman crew, not creating the "Big One" will be even more important, as angering 25 drivers in a split second can be detrimental to one's driving career…not to mention their health.
Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Last week was a very ominous start to the "Tony's Pick" portion of this column as my choice, David Ragan, was instead the last rookie to finish at Phoenix. No need to focus on the race recap for Ragan any further…just reread the Rocky Rookie Performance/Wreck of the Day for a summary for the nightmare in Phoenix for this race team.
Next week at Talladega, I'm picking David Reutimann as the top-finishing rookie. Maybe it's because of MWR's strong performance (strong equaling all 3 cars making the race) at Daytona, or since in the Busch Series, Reutimann drives the No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine, who is also the title sponsor of the race. Perhaps its his prior Craftsman Truck experience at the track, or just simply a gut feeling (since using logic didn't exactly pan out for my Phoenix pick). Whatever the reason, this much is clear : Talladega is famous for producing surprises in the finishing Top 10 order, and I think Reutimann is due to shock us all.
Tony’s Rookie Prediction Chart:
|Track||Event||Tony’s Pick||Finish||Top Rookie||Finish|
|Phoenix||Subway Fresh Fit 500k||David Ragan||41st||Paul Menard||25th|
Tony’s Prediction Record For 2007 : 0-1
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