The Frontstretch: Rating The Nextel Cup Rookies : Charlotte Edition by Tony Lumbis -- Monday May 28, 2007

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Rating The Nextel Cup Rookies : Charlotte Edition

Tony Lumbis · Monday May 28, 2007

 

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (13th), Juan Pablo Montoya (20th), A.J. Allmendinger (29th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Juan Pablo Montoya (28th), A.J. Allmendinger (31st), David Ragan (37th)

Rookie of the Race: Nobody. Only three rookies qualified for Sunday's race and out of those three, none finished within the Top 25. Juan Pablo Montoya's chances for a good run were ended in a spectacular lap 54 multi-car wreck. A.J. Allmendinger's car then suffered significant damage twelve laps later when he found Jeff Gordon's car falling from the sky and almost into his lap down the frontstretch. Not to be left off the bad luck train, David Ragan was enjoying a solid Top 10 run as the lone remaining rookie when teammate Carl Edwards lost control of his No. 99 Ford and spun right into the path of Ragan's AAA machine.

Tony's Take: One can argue that these drivers shouldn't be punished because none of the aforementioned incidents were their fault. While this is true, the bottom line is that nobody finished in one piece and I can't reward poor performances just for the sake of handing out awards. Call it Tony's "No Rookie Left Behind" act, holding all Nextel Cup rookies accountable for their performances. That being said, I need to give a shout out to David Ragan. After a self-imposed wreck took him out of contention in the Nextel Open the week before, Ragan appeared to have learned from his mistake while running solidly in the Top 10 for the better portion of the first half of the race. The rookie's best run of the year was ended abruptly by Edwards, who suffered a flat tire and did not appear to slow down enough to keep control of his car. When the Office Depot Fusion spun up the banking, Ragan tried to maneuver his No. 6 car to the bottom of the track, but could not clear Edwards. Don't expect these two to be enjoying a beer together at the Roush Fenway Memorial Day picnic anytime soon. (Although it would be a funny sight to see, given that these two are NASCAR's very own Mr. Rogers and Beaver Cleaver).

Rocky Rookie Performance: Juan Pablo Montoya. This marks the first time that the highest finishing rookie receives the rocky performance distinction, which could have easily gone to any one of the freshman participants on Sunday; however, there is logic behind the madness. Given his history at other similar tracks this year, Juan Pablo Montoya had the most to gain during the 600 mile event, and hence, lost the biggest opportunity when he was caught up in the evening's first multi-car incident. Montoya's Charlotte nightmare actually started the week before when making a bonsai move in the early laps of the Nextel Open and losing control of his car in turn one, collecting six other drivers. The Columbian endured much criticism following the incident for being too aggressive too early on hard tire compounds; unfortunately, he never got a chance to prove anyone wrong this Sunday after being taken out. Montoya is mostly likely delighted to be leaving the NASCAR capital and should be looking to right the ship at Dover.

Rookie Wreck of the Day: A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger and his Red Bull Toyota struggled to simply qualify for the majority of the first quarter of the 2007 season. Well, after making the previous three consecutive races, it appears that the No. 84 team is ready to rise to the next challenge: running competitively. Otherwise, Allmendinger will find himself falling back early and into trouble similar to what he endured early Sunday evening. First, the California native's ill-handling car got into the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson, cutting down a tire on the Lowe’s car which caused a chain reaction wreck among the pursuing competitors. Then, on lap 62, Allmendinger was involved in the most frightening incident of the race when Jeff Gordon's Chevy spun across the front straightaway and into the path of the rookie's Toyota. Allmendinger's car "T-boned" the No. 24 car as it landed from its aerial adventure. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

Who Wasn't Here?: David Reutimann and Paul Menard. Reutimann was the second Michael Waltrip Racing entry to wreck in qualifying, ending his chance to make the race when the No. 00 car caught the apron and shot back into the turn 4 wall. As for Menard, he had the speed to make the race but not the coveted Top 35 points position that goes with it, and was the first car to be sent home as a result. These two drivers may have been watching Sunday's race for different reasons, but their DNQs were huge momentum killers in both of their respective seasons. Reutimann has made every race since Phoenix over a month ago while Menard last missed a race at the season's sixth event in Martinsville, Virginia.

Rookie Quote of the Week:
David Ragan was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when Edwards' car spun in front of him, but one would think he caused the wreck after reading his post-incident quotes. Doesn't it seem like he's taking interviewing lessons from Edwards?

“My spotter was doing a great job. He told me that the (No.) 99 was having a problem, and of course, I could see that. I just thought he would come up the track a lot faster. I really feel bad for all the Office Depot guys. I really hated to get into Carl. He was coming across the track. I thought he would come a lot faster than he did. I thought I could squeeze through in the middle. I was just trying not to wreck myself and turned it down the hill and guess what, I wrecked myself. Tough night for the AAA team…but what a great race car. We had a lot of fun and we’ll get ‘em at Dover next week. Our AAA Ford Fusion was pretty strong. We started in the back, really loose to start off with, and the sun started coming down and just kind of played into our favor. I felt like at any given time we had a Top 5 or Top 10 car and I was just kind of cruising, just trying not to do anything crazy and jeopardize a good finish. I’m real disappointed that we’re sitting in the garage right now. I really hate that it had to be my teammate Carl Edwards. I really hate we ruined his night, also.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 131
Ragan 125
Menard 83
Reutimann 73
Allmendinger 48

Next Up: After two weeks in Charlotte, the series heads north to Delaware for the Autism Speaks 400 presented by VISA at Dover International Raceway. The Monster Mile, with its concrete surface and high banking, can be compared to Bristol on steroids, meaning the goal for most of the rookies will be to bring their machines to the checkered flag in one piece. The "Full Time 2008 Car" also returns once again after a two week hiatus.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: A long race on a quad oval, held on the same day as the prestigious Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the world renowned Indianapolis 500, seemed like a Juan Pablo Montoya type of day…or so I thought. Montoya's Texaco Havoline Dodge was swept up in an early melee created by Jimmie Johnson's slowing car and flying tire rim. However, Team Texaco repaired the car enough for Montoya to take advantage of a high attrition rate and finish as the race's top finishing rookie, albeit in 28th place.

You Make The Pick: As we all know, sometimes mechanical problems beyond anyone's control can drop our favorite drivers out of race competition. Unfortunately, the same circumstances can affect favorite racing websites as well. Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to read your survey picks for the Coca-Cola 600. I apologize for the inconvenience and ensure you that the Frontstretch crew and I are working hard to ensure that this is our only "DNF" of the season. For this reason, I will not reward myself a point this week for once again correctly identifying this week's top rookie (I know, I'm such a fair guy).

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie:
I reviewed the Bristol Rookie Report to remind myself what happened last time the series ran on a concrete oval with the "Car of Next Year". Regan Smith, who will not be in the Dover Nextel Cup event, finished first among the rookies. Following Smith was David Ragan, who, using logic, I’ll make my top finishing rookie pick for this Sunday's race.

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

Score After Charlotte : Tony 2, Readers 0.

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