NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: AJ Allmendinger Aces the 2007 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Paul Menard (17th), David Reutimann (20th), AJ Allmendinger (30th), David Ragan (31st), Juan Pablo Montoya (36th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Allmendinger (15th), Menard (22nd), Reutimann (29th), Montoya (37th), Ragan (40th)

Rookie of the Race: Allmendinger. Allmendinger started just 30th for Saturday night’s race, but there was no need for Team Red Bull to be concerned… he wouldn’t stay there for long. Powering his Camry into the top 20 by lap 60, both driver and team proved early that they would be a force to be reckoned with. The No. 84’s progress, however, became hindered soon after once he dropped a lap down to the leaders, a setback which could have proved costly long-term. But that’s when Lady Luck finally shined her good graces on this team, as Allmendinger was the beneficiary of the “Lucky Dog” award on the lap 119 caution for debris; just like that, he was back on pace with the leaders in what would prove to be a crucial turning point.

Following the restart, the No. 84 machine would run steadily in positions 20-25 for about the next 100 laps, but would not lose a lap again. That’s also important to note, because it would set up Allmendinger’s final charge in what might be the best run of his short stock car career. After crew chief Ricky Viers made some changes on the car’s last stop, Allmendinger charged through the field in the final 50 laps, knocking on the door for his first top 10 of the season. In fact, Allmendinger made it as high as 10th place, in position to capitalize even further until two final restarts just didn’t go his way.

In the end, Allmendinger wound up 15th – a finish he claimed would have been higher if not for late-race mechanical woes.

“Both restarts, I’m not even sure what happened,” he explained after the race. “The motor just died like it was out of fuel… but it wasn’t. There was nothing I could do. The second restart, I spent the whole lap coming to it just basically trying to clean [the engine] out and as soon as I hit third gear, it went again. I feel bad for Mark [Martin] because I was trying to get out of the way and he was trying to get under me and run into the back of me. Fortunately enough, that helped push us, but it probably screwed his race. I’m sorry about that.”

Despite these problems, the former open-wheel standout took with him not only a career-best finish, but his first top-finishing Rookie of the Race award this season as well.

Tony’s Take: To say that the 2007 season for Allmendinger and his entire Red Bull team has been a struggle is understating it. Qualifying for only 14 races of 31 so far – and finishing in the lower third of the field for most of them – the California native was searching for a ray of light in a season that’s been filled with darkness. Ironically, that light finally shined through the night of a primetime performance to be proud of last Saturday. True racing fans understood that with Allmendinger’s talent and background, it would only be just a matter of time before he broke though – and he did just that at the Bank of America 500. Yes, it’s only one race… but I have to believe it’s not the last we’ve heard from Allmendinger. If Team Red Bull wants to promote its newest addition, Scott Speed, to Cup anytime soon, it will need to form a third team – because Allmendinger isn’t going anywhere.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Reutimann. Reutimann experienced one of the worst nightmares for a NASCAR driver on Saturday night. Before he could complete a single lap, Reutimann’s No. 00 Camry hit the wall in turn 4, a rookie mistake he’d pay for dearly. From that point on, the Dominos.com machine was damaged just enough to keep him from being competitive, but not enough to drop out of the event. As a result, Reutimann was simply forced to limp around Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the rest of the race, coming home a disappointing 29th.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Ragan. Just 20 laps after Reutimann’s incident, Ragan also found himself falling victim to the grip of the “Beast of the Southeast,” only this time, the “beast” was none other than Reed Sorenson. While Ragan and Dave Blaney were battling for position on the front straightaway, Sorenson made an ill-advised move to go three-wide with the duo. The No. 41 and No. 6 machines then collided, sending Ragan hard into the outside retaining wall and ending his chances of a strong finish. The AAA team was able to make repairs, though, allowing Ragan to gain three positions and finish 40th.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish Jr.’s latest failed qualifying effort means he has yet to make a race in four Nextel Cup attempts this season. This latest DNQ cannot be making Hornish’s ongoing internal debate about Nextel Cup any easier, should I stay or should I go?

Rookie Quotes of the Week: After the race, I asked top rookie Allmendinger if he felt that running the Busch race the night before helped contribute to his career-best finish on Saturday:

“Yeah, you know, running anything helps me. We didn’t have a great race yesterday, but I learned some things about running the top lane that were a big help [today]. Just anytime you’re in the car with the lack of experience that I have, it’s a big deal.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 226
Ragan 211
Menard 184
Reutimann 166
Allmendinger 135

Next Up: The tight turns of the paperclip-shaped oval in Martinsville, Va. are next up on the schedule. Menard was the only rookie who missed the spring race, so look for most of the rookie competitors to look back on their notes from April to figure out how to get around this place. More importantly, expect most of these freshmen to use that experience to simply figure out how to survive this grueling 500-lap event… all over again.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: As previously mentioned, while Ragan had plenty of potential for a solid finish on Saturday, his run was ended early in an incident with Sorenson. As a result, Ragan was the final finishing rookie competitor in Charlotte… instead of the first.

You Make The Pick: A whopping 67% of you thought Montoya would be the top-finishing rookie at Lowe’s for the second time this year. Montoya wound up struggling, however, scraping the wall early in the race and banished to the back of the pack. He was eventually put out of his misery after a blown tire sent his Texaco/Havoline Dodge into the wall, taking Scott Riggs with him – as well as another chance for you to score a point on me.

MEYER: LOSING HERO DALE JARRETT TO RETIREMENT

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: This week, we saw Allmendinger experience his first top-rookie finish. I think this trend will continue next week with Reutimann taking home HIS first top-rookie finish at Martinsville. Heck, he will now have access to “the truck,” which is always an advantage at the always wreck-filled race in southern Virginia. (This is in reference, of course, to the announcement that Reutimann will take over the driver duties of the No. 44 UPS Camry after Dale Jarrett retires five races into 2008. If this is news to you, then you should sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter, which keeps you up to date on all the latest happenings in NASCAR. Not on the list yet? Click here… and remember, it’s FREE!)

| 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 |
| Dodge Dealers 400 | Dover | Ragan | 25th | Ragan | 25th | Montoya | 10th |
| Lifelock 400 | Kansas | Reutimann | 31st | Ragan | 16th | Ragan | 16th |
| UAW-Ford 500 | Talladega | Reutimann | 22nd | Ragan | 34th | Montoya | 15th |
| Bank of America 500 | Charlotte | Ragan | 40th | Montoya | 37th | Allmendinger | 15th |

Season Scorecard: Tony 6, Readers 8

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