Unofficial Finishing Positions: Ragan (19th), Montoya (23rd), Menard (24th), Reutimann (26th), Allmendinger (33rd), Smith (36th)
Rookie of the Race: Ragan. For much of Sunday’s race, it looked like it would be a long day for Ragan and his AAA crew. After starting in the 38th position, it took the No. 6 car nearly half the race to work its way out of the lower third of the field. However, slow and steady proved to be what won the race for Ragan on this day; never faltering, adjustments from crew chief Jimmy Fennig continually kept making the car slightly better each run, pushing it to the point where his driver could finally pop his head inside the top 20 in the race’s waning laps. During that process, he guided his Ford Fusion past numerous competitors, including Rookie of the Year Candidate Montoya, who held the top-rookie spot for much of this weekend’s race. By the end of the day, Ragan was credited with 19th, just one lap off the pace of runaway winner Clint Bowyer. It was his 12th top-finishing rookie honor of the year and third straight dating back to Fontana on Labor Day weekend.
Tony’s Take: It was tempting not to choose any of New Hampshire’s freshman participants for Rookie of the Race, as overall, a lackluster performance was turned in by each one. In fact, at one point Sunday, all six were clumped together in about the 26th – 35th positions, making them not exactly all-stars in the making quite yet. However, my conscience would bother me if I ignored Ragan’s fourth top 20 in the last five races, with a possessed gear shift at Bristol being the only thing keeping him from going five for five. In the past several weeks, Ragan has developed the pattern of starting out slowly, staying out of trouble, and making a strong run at the end, exactly the type of game plan you want from a rookie trying to learn the ropes. Of course, this team could really turn some heads if they can figure out both qualifying and how to stay ahead of the game during the first part of the race. All in all, though, congratulations to the entire AAA team, turning in solid performances during the past three weeks to make the ROTY competition interesting again.
Rocky Rookie Performance: Smith. Making his seventh start of 2007 in the No. 01 Principal Financial Group Chevy and his second at New Hampshire, Smith’s weekend started off promising – he qualified a respectable 16th. However, it didn’t take long for him to drop like a rock through the standings; he was out of the top 25 by lap 50 and never recovered during a day he struggled with the handling on his car. Already battling a subpar performance, things would just get worse for Smith; early on in the event, his Impala made contact with Scott Riggs‘s Avenger, cutting his tire and sending the No. 10 car to pit road for an unscheduled pit stop. Later in the afternoon, Smith would have another run-in with a fellow competitor, this time thumping Dave Blaney into the turn 1 wall. It’s not exactly the way the Cato, N.Y. native wanted to end the season in this car; clearly, if Smith wants to prove to DEI that signing him in 2008 was the right decision, then he needs to step up his game.
Rookie Wrecks of the Race: Blaney. What!? No, I haven’t gone completely nuts. I know Blaney has not carried the yellow stripe since 2000; however, he was the innocent victim of not one, but two rookie wrecks that put a damper on his day. First, on lap 165, Allmendinger got into the back of Blaney’s Dodge, sending him into the turn 1 wall. 24 laps later, in almost an identical incident, Smith’s Chevrolet slid up into the Caterpillar Dodge, once again sending Blaney into the exterior of turn 1. I think it’s a safe bet that next week, once Blaney sees a rookie contender in his rearview mirror, he will do everything possible to stay clear.
Editor’s Note: For more on how the Smith – Blaney wreck affected the Top-35 race, check out our own Mike Lovecchio’s column by clicking here.
Who Wasn’t Here?: Sam Hornish Jr. After posting a respectable 20th-fastest time in Friday’s practice session, Hornish Jr. was unable to qualify for his first Nextel Cup race in Roger Penske’s third Dodge. But as joining the open-wheel trend becomes more popular in NASCAR, one can almost guarantee that this past weekend won’t be the last time we see Hornish attempting to make a Cup event.
Rookie Quotes of the Week: Reutimann shares his thoughts on his name being thrown around by top teams in the NASCAR rumor mill. Also, the rain delay on Saturday was by far not the most memorable for Reutimann during his career. He tells us why.
In the last few weeks, has it been nice to see the interest in David Reutimann?
“It’s been flattering to have my name thrown around with some really good organizations… not that MWR is not a good organization and will become a great organization at some point. They’re working hard towards that. But, to have your name thrown around in those circles… yeah, that’s pretty special.”
You have raced on many short tracks in your career. What is your best rain delay story?
“I remember running a small-block modified race in Middletown, N.Y. around October, the Eastern States 200 weekend. It rained all day and they were scraping the track, it was a dirt track, and it rained and rained. We finally got on the racetrack and we started our race at 3:30 in the morning. That was a pretty amazing deal; it was one of those deals where we raced the small-block deal early that morning, as it turned out, and we had the big-block race later on that afternoon… so I raced twice in the same day. One was at 3:30 in the morning and the other one was a noon.”
Did you leave the track?
“No… I just stayed there. I stuck my head under a water hose and rinsed the dirt out of my hair, and we went back and raced later on that afternoon. You look back on things like that, and it’s pretty cool (to be in NASCAR Nextel Cup).
Do you remember where you finished?
“I broke a motor in the small-block race, and I think we run 12th or 13th in the big-block race. The way my season had been going, that was a pretty good finish for that year.”
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings
Next Up: It’s back to the Monster Mile for the Nextel Cup series as they head to race number two in the Chase. Back in June, only three rookie participants made the race – Allmendinger, Montoya and Ragan. However, all three managed to keep their noses clean throughout the entire race, a rarity for rookies at this track. Although the high concrete banks of Dover International Speedway offers one of the more complicated challenges on tour, look for improved performances by all of the ROTY candidates; hopefully, they’ll get better the second time around benefiting from the practice and/or race time they picked up during their first visit to this venue.
Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: It was a promising start for my pick, Reutimann, after qualifying on the outside of row 10. The Burger King team could never quite recover from losing a lap early, however, and Reutimann only managed a 26th-place finish, a distant fourth among all rookies who participated. While the day didn’t go quite as planned for the No. 00 bunch, Reutimann continues to be the face of Michael Waltrip Racing and the best fit to serve as the team’s driver of the future. Can somebody please tell me why MWR hasn’t signed this guy yet?
You Make The Pick: A whopping 84% of you thought that Ragan would extend his top-finishing rookie streak to three, and you were right. You have taken the lead once again. Looks like the 12 chasers aren’t the only ones involved in an intense battle during these final events of the season.
Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: I think that streak of three will become four after next week’s event for Ragan. He was the top-finishing rookie at Dover in the spring and should do so again this Sunday, should he continue his recent trend of staying out of trouble and surviving until the end… a perfect strategy for success at The Monster Mile.
| 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 |
| Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400 | Richmond | Ragan | 3rd | Menard | 26th | Ragan | 3rd |
| Sylvania 300 | New Hampshire | Reutimann | 26th | Ragan | 19th | Ragan | 19th |
Season Scorecard: Tony 6, Readers 7