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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Rating the Nextel Cup Rookies: 2007 Brickyard 400 Edition

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (second), Paul Menard (28th), David Ragan (30th), David Reutimann (34th).

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Montoya (second), Ragan (16th), Menard (20th), Reutimann (38th).

Rookie of the Race: Montoya. When Montoya qualified his Texaco/Havoline Dodge on the outside of the front row for the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, he accomplished more than simply securing his best career starting spot. Making his first start in a stock car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Montoya made history before the race even began – he’s now the first driver in the famed racetrack’s history to start in all three major series to run there (Indy Racing League, Formula 1 and NASCAR). His experience showed on Sunday, as the No. 42 car was a mainstay in the top five for much of the event; the car was strongest late in the race, and Montoya wound up battling Kevin Harvick in the latter stages to come home in second place. It was the ninth time in 2007 that the former open-wheel star finished as the race’s top performing rookie.

Tony’s Take: In the Chicagoland Rookie Report, I mentioned that Montoya might start seeing improved results if the team learned to qualify better. Well, I think two thirds of Chip Ganassi’s team got the message, placing both Reed Sorenson and Montoya on the front row; luckily, the starting spots paid off for both of them in the race. In fact, I would rank Montoya’s Indy performance as the most impressive for him so far in 2007, even more so than his Sonoma win. The team appeared to have the full package together on this past weekend: the car qualified well, didn’t lose the handling as the race progressed, stayed out of trouble during the entire event, and finished the deal with a top five. Furthermore, this performance was turned in on an oval, where many of Montoya’s skeptics were still waiting for the rookie to perform well on. Maybe it was just the nostalgia of the Brickyard that raised the Colombian’s game; however, if this is truly a sign of things to come, Montoya could start dominating the rookies the way many thought he would entering the season.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Reutimann. On a weekend where Jason Leffler brought home Toyota’s first ever Busch Series win at O’Reilly Raceway Park and Dave Blaney finished with an impressive ninth, the sport’s newest manufacturer can be pleased with its teams’ performances. However, Reutimann’s blown engine for the second consecutive race was a cruel reminder of the reliability issues that Toyota must still overcome. Even before the motor let go, Reutimann was not making any headway from his 34th position, running in the lower third of the order for much of his abbreviated race. However, he continues to lead the way for Michael Waltrip Racing, this week out-qualifying two former Nextel Cup champions in the Nos. 44 and 55 entries. However, this team will not be considered a true contender until they can finish a race, and finish it well on a consistent basis.

Rookie Wrecks of the Day: None.

For the second week in a row, none of the rookies were involved in an on-track incident. This is saying a lot for their skill, luck, or maybe both this week. Twice, a wreck clogged the entire racetrack, collecting numerous cars as they tried to dodge the mayhem; but luckily, none of which were the freshman four.

Who Wasn’t Here?: AJ Allmendinger.
Given his open-wheel background, one has to think that missing the event at Indy may have been the hardest pill to swallow yet this season for Allmendinger. In Frontstretch‘s exclusive interview with Allmendinger in June, he mentioned that traveling at 220 mph in an open wheel car at the Brickyard would’ve scared the daylights out of him. However, going slightly slower in a car with a bit more protection probably would’ve been pretty cool for the California kid. Truth be told, Allmendinger and company need to find out what they were doing differently during their six-race streak of making races earlier this season. Whether it was a certain car set up, favorite Friday morning breakfast, lucky pair of underwear, whatever it was, Team Red Bull and Allmendinger need to find it, fast!

One driver who will no longer appear in this category for the foreseeable future is Menard. As many of you know from the Frontstretch‘s coverage of the DEI/Ginn merger, that No. 15 team inherits the points of the Bobby Ginn’s former No. 14 entry, formally driven by Sterling Marlin. The swap gives Menard’s team the 30th owner points position and a new lease on life for the rest of the season. The goal here is to turn in performances every week and not blow this golden opportunity.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Montoya comments on if his prior experience at this racetrack helped him on Sunday.

Q: Did you find anything from your Indy 500 experience that helped you in these big cars?
“Yeah, a little bit. Maybe it’s just the race line and where you get out of the gas and stuff like that to pass people. It’s exciting. I tell you, I’m happy. It’s the first actual race that I get to people and (then be able to) pass them. Normally I get to like 12th and you start to try to get runs on people and you can’t and today it was something. I could really go at it.”

Q: How much of (your good run) today was your experience on the track here?
“The track, to learn, is pretty simple. At least, I found it pretty simple when I came here the first time. It’s a very different oval but it’s a mixture of an oval and a road course. I like it. It’s funny because I was telling my crew chief most of the times when we have problems, it’s just past the center of a normal oval and here, just past the center, you’re out of the corner. I think it worked pretty good.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 208
Ragan 184
Menard 141
Reutimann 126
Allmendinger 77

Next Up: The series returns to Pocono Raceway for the second time this season. The rookies were cheated by Mother Nature of precious track time back in June when rain shortened the 200-lap event just past halfway. Look for this weekend to serve as a continuation of the learning session when the newbies continue trying to figure out the most unique configuration on the Nextel Cup schedule.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I’m back on track at the Brickyard as my pick Montoya came home as the top-finishing rookie with his third top five of the season.

You Make The Pick: This week’s pick appeared to be a nobrainer for all of us, as 40% of you also chose J.P. as the top finishing rookie. Nice job!

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: Ragan has not let his rookie counterpart Montoya pull out too far ahead of him with several top finishes this season. I think Ragan will close this gap once again next week, benefiting the most from his June experience and from having Jimmy Fennig, who won this race with Kurt Busch in 2005, calling the shots from atop the pit box.

| Event | Track | Tony’s Pick | Finish | Reader’s Pick | Finish | Top Finishing Rookie | Finish |
| Subway Fresh Fit 500 | Phoenix | Ragan | 41st | — | — | Menard | 25th |
| Aaron’s 499 | Talladega | Reutimann | 32nd | — | — | Ragan | 17th |
| Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 | Richmond | Menard | 16th | Montoya | 26th | Menard | 16th |
| Dodge Avenger 500 | Darlington | Montoya | 23rd | Menard | 31st | Montoya | 23rd |
| Coca-Cola 600 | Charlotte | Montoya | 28th | No Pick | DNS | Montoya | 28th |
| Autism Speaks 400 | Dover | Ragan | 14th | Ragan | 14th | Ragan | 14th |
| Pocono 500 | Pocono | Allmendinger | 39th | Ragan | 26th | Montoya | 20th |
| Citizens Bank 400 | Michigan | Ragan | 21st | Ragan | 21st | Menard | 12th |
| Toyota / Save Mart 350 | Infineon | Montoya | 1st | Montoya | 1st | Montoya | 1st |
| Lenox Industrial Tools 300 | New Hampshire | Menard | 39th | Reutimann | 38th | Ragan | 15th |
| Pepsi 400 | Daytona | Reutimann | 26th | Ragan | 12th | Ragan | 12th |
| USG Sheetrock 400 | Chicagoland | Menard | 42nd | Ragan | 25th | Montoya | 15th |
| Allstate 400 at the Brickyard | Indianapolis | Montoya | 2nd | Montoya | 2nd | Montoya | 2nd |

Season Score: Tony 5, Readers 4

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