The Frontstretch: Rating the Nextel Cup Rookies: Michigan Edition by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday June 17, 2007

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Rating the Nextel Cup Rookies: Michigan Edition

Tony Lumbis · Sunday June 17, 2007


Editor’s Note : Want to hear from your favorite rookies? Well, surf in to Frontstretch this week as Tony Lumbis goes one-on-one with two of this year’s five rookie contenders. Look for exclusive interviews with David Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger, Tuesday and Thursday only on The Frontstretch.

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (33rd), David Ragan (34th), Paul Menard (38th), David Reutimann (40th), A.J. Allmendinger (43rd).

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Paul Menard (12th), David Reutimann (15th), David Ragan (21st), A.J. Allmendinger (31st), Juan Pablo Montoya (43rd).

Rookie of the Race: Paul Menard. The No. 15 Johns Manville / Menards Chevy spent the majority of the day both on the lead lap and in front of the rookie contingent, as Menard brought home a season-best 12th place finish in the Citizens Bank 400. Interim crew chief Dave Charpentier helped guide the young driver quietly through the field from his 38th starting position, as Menard provided the exclamation point for a day in which DEI landed all three teams within the Top 12 in the final rundown.

Tony's Take: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been the focus of the civilized world while Martin Truex, Jr. picks up Top 5 finishes like clockwork (three in a row after Sunday). Paul Menard has quickly fallen further into “other guy” status over at DEI. With that being said, its safe to assume that there will be life after Earnhardt at the team founded by his father should the “other guy” begin to establish similar consistency. It’s still early, but Dave Charpentier may shed his label of “interim” crew chief if the No. 15 team continues to perform this well under his leadership. Since Charpentier took the helm following the Dover race, Menard has had his second best career start (19th at Pocono) and finish (12th on Sunday, second only to his 7th place finish in the 2006 Spring Atlanta race), leaving this team only 152 points out of the coveted 35th points position and a “locked in” qualifying spot.

As a side note, it was really difficult not to choose David Reutimann for this category, as he enjoyed what was by far a career best 15th place finish, giving Michael Waltrip Racing its first weekend of two cars with Top 15 performances. Menard, however, ran well throughout the entire race while Reutimann struggled early on, falling a lap behind and needing a timely caution to get himself back in contention; in the end, that gave Menard the slight edge for this award.

Rocky Rookie Performance/Rookie Wreck of the Day: Juan Pablo Montoya.

It was a bad start to the afternoon for Montoya, as he found himself among the large group of cars to lose a lap during the 51-lap green flag segment that began the race. However, the Texaco Havoline Dodge was running well enough to be in the right position to earn the "Lucky Dog" when the first caution of the day was waved for debris. It would be a short-lived Good Luck Charm, though, as the No. 42 of Montoya was sent hard into the turn two wall shortly thereafter, blowing a tire to cause the wreck. This marks the seventh time in the past eight races where Montoya has finished outside of the Top 20 (last week's 20th place run at Pocono being the lone exception). If expectations mean anything, that streak should end when the series makes its first visit to a road course at Sonoma next weekend; frankly, that race couldn’t come at a better time for a team in need of a boost.

Who Wasn't Here?: Nobody. For the second time in 2007, all Nextel Cup rookie competitors qualified for two consecutive races (Richmond and Darlington were the first pair). Unfortunately, it will be hard to go for the hat trick next week, as the rookies will face challenges that they have not dealt with yet this season on the road course out West.

Rookie Quote of the Week:
David Reutimann shared his feelings on his career best 15th place finish, all while sharing a new NASCAR term that many fans may be unfamiliar with: "twitchiness."

“It was good, a lot of fun. The guys did a good job for us, (especially) as horrible as we did in practice. So, I thought it was a very good recovery.”

What was the biggest change you made during the race?

“We started the race, and the thing was so loose. We just did a bunch of stuff to try to take downforce off the front, and that took away some of the twitchiness and some of the freeness in the center. But it also hurt our exit, which is where we were suffering at the end. Good effort for all the guys (though); we got out of here with a decent finish and gained a couple of points.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 159
Ragan 155
Menard 104
Reutimann 92
Allmendinger 72
Brandon Whitt 2

Next Up: It’s time for some road course racing, as NASCAR travels to Infineon Raceway for the Toyota / Save Mart 350, held on the 1.99-mile serpentine track in Sonoma, CA. Next week's adventure in the Wild West presents some interesting scenarios among this year's rookie class. While only Paul Menard has previous Cup experience under his belt on a road course (Watkins Glen in 2000, '03 and '05), two of his counterparts, A.J. Allmendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya, have mastered the twists and turns in the CART and Formula One series, respectively. Furthermore, this event always features road course ringers, and Nextel Cup rookies Marcos Ambrose, Ron Fellows, Klaus Graf, and Marc Goossens are among those rumored to be making an attempt to qualify at Sears Point.

Also of note, it was announced this weekend that P.J. Jones will both qualify and race the No. 00 Toyota Camry, as David Reutimann will be off competing at the Milwaukee Mile for the entire weekend.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Many say that momentum is a powerful concept in sports. The same can be said for predictions, too. After accurately selecting the top rookie in four consecutive races, I've now missed the mark for the past two events. Paul Menard surprised me this week, as both he and David Reutimann outdueled my pick of David Ragan, who came home with a disappointing 21st place finish.

You Make The Pick: Unfortunately, I have brought you down with me. David Ragan was also your choice, as 33% of you believed the AAA Ford Fusion would best the rookie class. Yes, that's right, 33% was enough to win the vote, as you had various opinions on who would finish on top this week. Don't forget to vote again this week, it will only take five seconds of your time.

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie:
This is actually one of the more difficult picks of the year when one considers the road course ringers. However, I will still stick with one of our five regulars to be the best of the rookies out west. Juan Pablo Montoya has not meet expectations for the past several races, and, as some would argue, the entire year. However, he is once again expected to perform well at a road course, having won a Busch Series race in Mexico earlier this season; this time, I think he will come through on the Cup level with a strong run in Sonoma.

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
Pocono 500 Pocono A.J. Allmendinger 39th David Ragan 26th Juan Pablo Montoya 20th
Citizens Bank 400 Michigan David Ragan 21st David Ragan 21st Paul Menard 12th

Season Score : Tony 3, Readers 1.

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