The Frontstretch: Rating The Nextel Cup Rookies : Dover Edition by Tony Lumbis -- Tuesday June 5, 2007

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Rating The Nextel Cup Rookies : Dover Edition

Tony Lumbis · Tuesday June 5, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (16th), David Ragan (31st), A.J. Allmendinger (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: David Ragan (14th), Juan Pablo Montoya (31st), A.J. Allmendinger (33rd)

Rookie of the Race: David Ragan. Ragan started from the back of the field on Sunday, a treacherous spot at any point during a race at the Monster Mile. Luckily, it all worked out for the AAA driver, who avoided trouble and drove a smooth race, working his way into the Top 20 just past the halfway point. Ragan eventually lost a lap, but cut his losses there, a good showing for track that is known for having only a handful of cars on the lead lap by the time the checker flag falls. The Roush-Fenway driver finished the day in the 14th position as the top rookie of the race for the sixth time this year, leading all of his freshman competitors by far.

Tony's Take: It was a very “ho-hum” type of day for David Ragan and his Jimmy Fennig-led AAA team. Ho-Hum, by definition, means routine or dull, at least according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Normally, this is not the way anyone wants to describe any aspect of one's life such as "The rock concert…birthday party…bar mitzvah…football game…Golden Girls marathon…etc…was ho-hum." The one exception, however, is if you are referring to your most recent race at the Monster Mile. Ragan's day appeared to be very routine as his name was hardly mentioned while he quietly soldiered on to a Top 15 finish, a successful day at the office for any rookie driver and even some veterans. It was the sixth time this year he bested his rookie competitors, a stat that loses its luster when you consider that it was only the third Top 15 of the year for the No. 6 team. Still, a few more consistent ho-hum performances like the one at Dover, and Ragan can easily reach a Top 20 points position. Oh yeah, and the next time someone talks to David, they should ask him if he thought wrestling a car around arguably the toughest mile on the circuit in one of the most physically demanding events was "dull."

Rocky Rookie Performance: A.J. Allmendinger. Dover marked the fourth consecutive time that A.J. Allmendinger qualified for the race, illustrating that he and his Red Bull team are starting to get a grip on how the car should perform on Fridays. However, the team appears to be still struggling to find the handling of the No. 84 Toyotas on Sundays (or Mondays). Allmendinger's day could also be described as "ho-hum" as he, too, flew under the radar for most of the day. However, the results weren't as good as this week's top “ho-hum” performer, as the former open-wheel driver could only muster a 33rd place finish, now failing to crack the Top 30 in all six of his starts in 2007. Allmendinger is mired back in the 45th position in points, 661 markers behind 35th place Johnny Sauter and struggling through a difficult battle. Qualifying is half the battle, but the team must fight better in the war if they are going to make a run at reducing their point deficit and securing a spot in the field on a weekly basis.

Rookie Wreck of the Day: None. Coming into Dover, everyone knew the Monster would salivate over chewing up these inexperienced drivers in much the same way that Lindsay Lohan eyes up a Gin and Tonic on the rocks. In both these situations, Allmendinger, Montoya, Ragan nor the Gin and Tonic stood a chance at surviving much longer than five minutes. Not so for the three rookie participants, however, as all of them brought their machines home in one piece, an accomplishment to be proud of no matter what the result was.

Who Wasn't Here?: David Reutimann and Paul Menard.
It's official, the momentum pendulum has swung the other way for both these drivers. After making several straight races, both the No. 00 and No. 15 teams found trouble on Friday, missing their second consecutive event at Dover Downs. David Reutimann is now 43rd in points, while Paul Menard, once in sight of the much sought after 35th points position, has now slid to 40th spot, 344 markers behind. Menard and Company have to be scratching their heads after watching their teammate turn in a dominating performance on Monday while they continue to dig themselves into a hole. Both drivers need to make the field next week; however, that task won't get any easier as they attempt to conquer Pocono, a track neither has raced at before.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
David Ragan shares some random thoughts during the rain delay, and proves that NASCAR drivers are just like the rest of us. They, too, experience nightmares while flying the friendly skies, have household chores to attend to and still occasionally count on mom to lend a helping hand when things get chaotic.

Q: You tested this past Tuesday at Infineon Raceway. Do you have a little jet lag?

“Well, I just got my bags yesterday morning from California. I think they went all the way to Charlotte to Baltimore and finally got here and when they did get here half the stuff in it was missing [smiles]. I had a rough week on the airplanes this week.

Q: If this race is delayed until Monday, how will that affect your schedule?

“It’s just going to make it tougher on everyone. We’ve got a test scheduled for Road Atlanta on Tuesday and I’ve got to be in New York on Wednesday with some of my AAA friends in Buffalo. That’ll basically just take out my grass cutting and car washing day on Monday [smiles] that I usually have we’ll be up here racing. I’ll have to give my Mom a call and see if she can clean some clothes for me ‘cause as soon as we get back Monday night we’ll have to repack, head to Atlanta and then hopefully hop back on an airplane Wednesday morning and go to New York.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 141
Ragan 136
Menard 84
Reutimann 74
Allmendinger 57
Brandon Whitt 2

Next Up: The Pocono 500 is next week where drivers will once again attempt to handle Pocono International Raceway's tricky triangle. The northeastern Pennsylvania track will present a layout unlike any other that the rookie class has seen before. The newbies will need to learn how to navigate Pocono's three turns, all containing varying degrees of banking; in fact, turn two (the Tunnel Turn) is one of the most difficult to navigate in NASCAR. Simply qualifying for this event will be a challenge for those not locked into the field; however, the 2007 freshmen should look to last year's rookie sensation Denny Hamlin for motivation. Hamlin refused to be intimidated by NASCAR's triangular anomaly, sweeping both events in 2006 with ease.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I'm on a hot streak of my own, as David Ragan propelled me to my fourth straight correct pick for top finishing rookie. I guess my editors assigned me to this piece for a reason.

You Make The Pick: This week, you the readers apparently recognized my recent good fortune as you also chose David Ragan as the top-finishing freshman (67%). Congrats on your first point of the year, and don't forget to vote again this week for the top finishing rookie in the Pocono 500. You have the chance to make it two in a row!

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie:
The top finishing rookie driver in the Pocono 500 will be the one who adapts the quickest to the track's unique configuration. One driver who has proven this adaptability in the past is A.J. Allmendinger. He seems to step up his game when the challenges become more difficult, qualifying on some of the most difficult tracks on the circuit (Bristol, Darlington, Dover). I believe he will do the same this week, taking it one step further by beating the rest of the rookie contingent on Sunday.

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
Autism Speaks 400 Dover David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th

Score After Charlotte : Tony 3, Readers 1.

Best for Last: Tony's thoughts on the passing of Bill France, Jr.: I began following this sport back in 1992, at a time when an already flourishing sport was still about to experience some of its fastest growth yet. Little did I know at the time that I was enjoying the results of years of hard work by the NASCAR's then president and CEO, Bill France, Jr.

Mr. France's accomplishments go far beyond growing the sport from a regional blip on the radar to the nation's second most popular sport that it is today. It was Bill France, Jr. who granted Pocono Raceway its second race date in 1982, following his father's footsteps by giving my home track the vote of confidence that track owner Joe Mattioli so desperately needed at the time. If it were not for Bill France Jr., Pocono may not even be in existence today.

This story isn't about a racetrack in the woods of the Pocono Mountains; instead, it serves as an example of how Bill France Jr. cared about the people who made his sport work. To Mr. France, the management, officials, drivers, owners and crews of NASCAR were much more than cogs in a wheel. They were the individuals who made the sport and Mr. France himself highly successful, and he never hesitated to show how much he appreciated them. We in the NASCAR community will be forever grateful to Bill France, Jr. for making the sport that we love what it is today. My heartfelt condolences go out to the entire France family.

Are you checking out the Frontstretch Newsletter? If you’re not, you missed out on a special commentary by Vito Pugliese on Bill France, Jr., as well as another edition of this week’s Editor Power Rankings…who’s on top? Is it Gordon? Is it Hamlin? Or maybe Jimmie Johnson? You can’t find out until you click here ; and remember, signing up for the newsletter is FREE!!!

Editor’s Note : For all the latest news and information concerning the death of Bill France, Jr. click here for all that Frontstretch has to offer on this tragic loss.

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