NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Rating the Nextel Cup Rookies: 2007 Sharp Aquos 500 at Fontana Edition

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: AJ Allmendinger (18th), Paul Menard (20th), David Reutimann (28th), David Ragan (33rd), Aric Almirola (40th), Juan Pablo Montoya (42nd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Ragan (12th), Allmendinger (18th), Menard (24th), Almirola (31st), Reutimann (32nd), Montoya (33rd)

Rookie of the Race: Ragan. After starting a dismal 33rd, Ragan slowly made his way into the top 10 by lap 104. The AAA team would experience a “yo-yo” type of night for the rest of the race, dropping as low as 36th after a pit-road speeding penalty before coming home in 12th position. Saturday night’s finish marked Ragan’s sixth top-15 finish of 2007 and his 10th top-rookie finish of the season.

Tony’s Take: Ragan was hardly a blip on the radar during much the Sharp Aquos 500 except for when it counted. After fellow rookies Reutimann and Allmendinger both looked like they would take home top-rookie honors, it was the kid from Georgia who stole the show by the time the checkered flag flew. Legitimizing his performance, Ragan even had his No. 6 Ford Fusion running in the top 10 for a portion of the night. This is the type of run I expect from this team from here on out for the rest of the season. When I spoke to Ragan back in June, he stated his expectations for both he and his team to improve when returning to tracks for the second time this season. In the five races that fit in that category so far, the Rookie of the Year candidate has only a pair of 12th-place finishes to show as his best performances. You know Jack Roush will want to see a vast improvement in the final three months of the season.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Montoya. Montoya’s California conundrums began before Sunday’s race even started. The engine on his No. 42 Dodge Charger expired on the first lap of his qualifying effort, relegating him to a 42nd-place starting position. On race day, while entering pit road for the first stop of the evening, Montoya, who barely made up ground from his starting position, was entering his stall with his Big Red machine at the same time Carl Edwards and his own version of big red were exiting. The two cars collided, significantly damaging the Colombian’s Chip Ganassi ride. The team was never able to recover as Montoya limped home in a disappointing 33rd place.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Reutimann. After missing the show at Bristol, it appeared that Reutimann and his Burger King team was back with a vengeance. The No. 00 Toyota Camry blasted through the field and into the top 10 by the halfway point, even leading a lap during a round of pit stops. The potential career-best performance for Reutimann came to a screeching halt on lap 181 when Jeff Gordon ran into Jeremy Mayfield on the front straightway, pushing the No. 36 car into Reutimann. Reutimann could only hold on helplessly as his car went spinning uncontrollably through the infield. The team could never recover from the incident and only mustered a 24th-place finish.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Everybody was here! For the first time since the Michigan race in June, all rookies who attempted to qualify made the race. One noteworthy item: Allmendinger, who has been struggling to make races this season was the highest qualifying rookie in 18th. It was also the second consecutive race that Allmendinger, one of NASCAR’s many California natives, has made. He credited his Busch Series practice laps for helping to get him in the show for the Nextel Cup event and the Busch experience seemed to carry over into the race as well. Allmendinger brought home a career-best 18th-place finish on Sunday, crushing his former best performance of 31st.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Allmendinger on his unusual weekend double, driving Chip Ganassi’s Dodge in the Busch Series and his Red Bull Toyota in Nextel Cup.

Most Cup guys say they can’t learn anything from the Busch car to the Cup car.
“Well, most of ’em didn’t come from Champ Car and [are] sitting in a closed roof car for the first time this year. It obviously showed good for Juan and it helped him and that’s why he’s been doing so well. Hopefully it’s my turn. Toyota, they were great because they know that they don’t have the capacity right now for Busch cars. So instead of holding me back they know that I need time and Red Bull, everybody there pushed for it, and it’s great to know that because by me running the car even though it’s not a Toyota in the Busch Series, I’m only going to help the Toyota car that I’m in when it comes to the Cup Series.”

Do you have a relationship with Chip Ganassi?
“I’ve spoke to him here and there a little bit but it really kind of formed between my business manager, Tara Ragan. She’s known Chip for a long time back in the Champ Car days and when they said they were going to close the No. 42 car down, (she) kind of called and inquired about it. The Red Bull guys, they supported it completely and it came together Tuesday night. This is just me trying out to learn and get some more races under our belt in this Cup car.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 217
Ragan 194
Menard 175
Reutimann 153
Allmendinger 99

Next Up: It’s the all important final race before the Chase as the series heads to Richmond for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. No rookie driver this year could duplicate Denny Hamlin‘s brilliant 2006 freshman performance as none of the five 2007 ROTY contenders will be battling for a Chase position. That does not take away from the importance of this race however. This event in Virginia’s capital city represents another track that the rookies will see for the second time this year. In the spring, all rookies qualified, however none finished better than 16th. Expect to see better results this Saturday night.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I really thought that Menard would come into his own on Sunday, but he was never a factor, especially surprising after his DEI teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. came home with top-10 finishes. After a 20th-place starting position, Menard never challenged for a strong run, running in the 30s for most of the night before eventually coming home in 24th.

You Make The Pick: This was a tough night all around. 50% of you thought Montoya would bring home top-rookie honors. He had his share of problems however, as was documented earlier, meaning that neither of us receive a point. You maintain your one point advantage heading into Richmond.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: Ragan leads the rookies with top finishes on tracks less than a mile this year, besting his counterparts at the first Bristol and the Martinsville races. I think he will add Richmond to his solid short track resume and come home as the top finishing rookie this weekend.

| 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 |
| Pennsylvania 500 | Pocono | Ragan | 33rd | Montoya | 16th | Montoya | 16th |
| Centurion Boats at the Glen | Watkins Glen | Montoya | 39th | Montoya | 39th | Fellows | 4th |
| 3M Performance 400 | Michigan | Reutimann | 23rd | Ragan | 18th | Ragan | 18th |
| Sharpie 500 | Bristol | Reutimann | DNQ | Ragan | 41st | Montoya | 17th |
| Sharp Aquos 500 | California | Menard | 24th | Montoya | 33rd | Ragan | 12th |

Season Scorecard: Tony 5, Readers 6

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