The Frontstretch: Rating The Rookies : Aaron's 499 by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday April 29, 2007

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Rating The Rookies : Aaron's 499

Tony Lumbis · Sunday April 29, 2007

 

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (10th), David Reutimann (14th), Paul Menard (19th), Regan Smith (22nd)*, Juan Pablo Montoya (24th).

Unofficial Finishing Positions: David Ragan (17th), Regan Smith (24th), Juan Pablo Montoya (31st), David Reutimann (32nd), Paul Menard (43rd).

Rookie of the Race: David Ragan. Reversing his performance at the last restrictor plate track at Daytona, Ragan spent most of the day mixing it up in the Top 10, only to get shuffled back to 17th in the final laps, possibly succumbing to a fuel pick up issue. The No. 6 driver spent a significant portion of the race with his Roush Fenway teammates battling the Hendrick brigade for the top spot, even pushing his teammate Jamie McMurray to first at one point. Lap 137 proved to be a special one for Ragan as he not only led his first lap at the famed 2.66mile tri-oval, but the first of his Nextel Cup career. Sunday marks the fifth time Ragan has bested his rookie rivals this season.

Tony's Take: This was one of the most difficult races for choosing the top rookie performance. Each driver (outside of Paul Menard who blew an engine early) did a fantastic job of staying out of trouble, and running up front at some portion of the race. However, it was Ragan and the entire AAA team that sealed the deal and got the job done. The timing could not be better as Ragan ended a streak of two straight races of being involved in an early incident.

This spring's version of Talladega 101 taught Ragan about the art of leading when you carry the yellow stripe on your bumper. Shortly after leading the pack across the start/finish line for the first time, Ragan got "freight trained" by the group vultures from second on back, making him Sunday's version of Talladega Night's "The Magic Man": Now you see him, now you don't. Not one single driver jumped out of line to rescue the No. 6 car as it disappeared back into the hornet's nest of cars. While this is typical treatment of rookie drivers at restrictor plate races, if Ragan turns in a few more solid performances like this one, he will gain the respect of his competitors and perhaps win a few friends by the time the series returns to "Tally" in October.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Paul Menard. Menard's efforts to finish as the series top rookie for the second consecutive week were abruptly halted when his DEI motor expired on lap 22. Menard's team was finally building some momentum in 2007 and was poised for their third straight Top 25 finish at the track were he led last fall. Instead, the No. 15 team suffered their first DNF of the season. Sitting 40th in points, it's important for this team to regroup and qualify strong at Richmond.

Rookie Wreck of the Day: Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya falls into this category almost by default as he was the only rookie to be involved in any kind of wreck on Sunday. Montoya, who was returning to the site of his stock car debut last year (in the ARCA Food World 250) was running quietly in the Top 25 for the majority of the day. Then on lap 163, his Texaco Havoline Dodge appeared to slow slightly and back into who else, but Ryan Newman, sending Montoya into the wall. It was later discovered that something had broken inside the No. 42 car, removing blame from either driver, however these two can't seem to stay out of each other's way since their notable incident in the 2006 finale in Homestead.

Who Wasn't Here?: A.J. Allmendinger. Talladega marked the third consecutive race and the seventh event of 2007 that Allmendinger and his No. 84 Red Bull team have missed. To the team's credit, Allmendinger's qualifying speed of 189.522 mph was quicker than 16 cars that made the field as he simply fell victim once again to the dreaded "Top 35" rule. Fair or not, these are the rules and Team Red Bull will have to find a way to make their cars go even quicker in qualifying if they have any hope of saving what has been a disaster of a season so far.

Rookie Quote of the Week:
David Reutimann on his solid run, miserable finish and how bad luck can affect a driver mentally:

“I'm so bummed out. I had a chance to run pretty good today, I thought. Stuff like that happens, you know. I'm disappointed for the whole team. Out there today, that wasn't nothing that the driver was doing. That was the guys at the shop preparing me good cars so I give them all the credit. I hated to oil the track down like that. I couldn't see enough to the get to the bottom. All I was doing was looking out at the wall. I hated that I cost those guys more laps on the race, too, on top of that. It's just a lose-lose all the way around.”

Q: You are a Raybestos Rookie Driver, but you're making races every weekend and running respectably. Today you had a car that could have won the race.

“Yeah, and that's a great thing considering what we've gone through over the past couple of months building a new organization. Toyota is doing a good job. Stuff breaks, you know and that's all I can say. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed for Domino's. They deserve a good run and haven't done much for them this year. I was hoping to turn it around today. To be honest, I'm sitting around there waiting for something to happen anyway. It's like is something going to run over me or is something going to break. Things had gone too good all day long. You hate to look at it that way but it seems to be the way things have been going for us. I thank the Lord. I was blessed today and He took care of us and I think it was a pretty safe race. Unfortunately we were not out there for the end of it.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 100
Ragan 96
Menard 62
Reutimann 56
AJ Allmendinger 24
Brandon Whitt 2

Next Up: The series returns to Virginia and the Car of Tomorrow at the Richmond International Raceway. This track has been good to rookies in recent years as Tony Stewart (1999) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) both won here in their freshman seasons while Denny Hamlin nearly missed victory in this event last year. This year's rookie drivers should also benefit from a test session they all took part in earlier this year.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I was about four laps from an upset pick as David Reutimann was positioned perfectly to bring home the top rookie honors. Oh well, I think his disappointment is just a bit larger than mine.

Next week I'm picking Paul Menard to head the rookie finishing order. I believe this team will regain the momentum it lost this past Sunday, and DEI has had a lot of success at Richmond, with Earnhardt. Jr. taking home the checkers three times.

Tony’s Top Rookie Pick 2007 Summary

Event Track Tony’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

You make the pick: This week we are introducing a new piece for the Rookie Report. Each week, a survey will be included that asks you, the reader, who you think will finish the best among all rookies. You can vote all week until qualifying, meaning that everyone faces the same risk of his or her pick not making the event. Following the race, the top choice from all the readers will be compared to my pick as well as the actual top rookie's performance. The reward for those who chose correctly: A job well done and most likely, the satisfaction of beating me. Sounds exciting doesn't it?

*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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