NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: AJ Allmendinger is Awesome at Atlanta

Editor’s Note: Delve deeper behind the numbers of Sunday’s race for the rookies – and others – with Kim DeHaven’s Numbers Game. Click here to read.

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (21st), AJ Allmendinger (31st), Paul Menard (36th), David Ragan (37th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Allmendinger (16th), Menard (27th), Ragan (33rd), Montoya (34th)

Rookie of the Race: Allmendinger. Qualifying for their third race in a row, Allmendinger’s Red Bull team rolled off the grid in 31st position and struggled for most of the first half of the race, falling down a lap early. However, the No. 84 Camry would regain that lap as the “Lucky Dog” later in the day when David Stremme spun down the front straightaway, giving the team another chance at a solid finish. With the car still not handling to his liking, however, Allmendinger would once again lose a lap, not even emerging from the top 30 until lap 160. But as fate would have it, it was Stremme’s ill-fortune once again that granted the rookie his second “Lucky Dog” of the day, when the event’s ninth caution was waved after the No. 40 car backed into the wall. This time, the team would capitalize on their gift – Allmendinger steadily worked his way into the top 25, and then took advantage of a strong car and late race chaos among the leaders to bring home a career second best finish of 16th. It was the Californian’s second top rookie finish of the year and second in the past three weeks.

Tony’s Take: The list of 2007 goals for Allmendinger has dwindled, especially after winning Rookie of the Year and securing a Top-35 spot in owner points no longer became obtainable. The objective for this team for the rest of the season is simply now to gain as much experience as possible and improve overall performance. Well, if the current trend continues, Allmendinger will accomplish both of those feats.

The challenges can become more difficult, however, as earlier this year, the team missed the show at Texas and Phoenix – the next two venues on the schedule – while Allmendinger has never even seen Homestead-Miami Speedway. I don’t expect this to be a problem, however; as the guy whose initials purposely mirror those of the great AJ Foyt, Allmendinger has become a much different driver than he was earlier this year. The Californian’s patience and maturity have him not only finishing races, but finishing well; as such, look for a solid run from his team next week at Texas. The 1.5-miler is a track very similar to Lowe’s and Atlanta – the site of Allmendinger’s two best career finishes.

Rocky Rookie Performances/Rookie Wreck of the Day: Montoya and Ragan. Both these rookies experienced equally miserable days that, oddly enough, emulated each other in many ways. Montoya was the victim of two right-front tire failures within 25 laps of each other; both of them tore apart his fender, ending any chance of repeating the top-five finish he had in Atlanta earlier this season. Behind him, Ragan also experienced a tire failure, brushing the wall on lap 150. 19 laps later, he was involved in an incident with the No. 66 car of Jeremy Mayfield on the backstretch, turning his car into the walking wounded while flushing a shot at a good run down the toilet. By the end of the day, Ragan and Montoya finished 33rd and 34th, respectively.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Sam Hornish Jr. and David ReutimannHornish Jr.’s experience so far in 2007 may have him thinking about returning to the Indy Racing League for 2008, or any racing series that doesn’t have a Top-35 qualifying rule, for that matter. Hornish’s qualifying speed was actually fast enough for the 33rd position on the starting grid; however, his car owner points were low enough to send him home.

Also, Reutimann also fell victim to NASCAR’s controversial owner points rule, failing to make the race for the first time since Bristol in August due to lack of speed. It was certainly a bittersweet weekend for him, though, as he won his first Busch Series race on Saturday in Memphis.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Allmendinger comments on this team’s strong performance, and how critical a spotter is when navigating through mass mayhem on the track:

“It was exciting. On car speed, we didn’t deserve to finish where we did. But on effort, we thought we deserved to finish higher. We never gave up. We just could never get a handle on the car. It was so loose, and we just could never get the right rear on the racetrack. This is stuff I’m learning, this is stuff the team is learning. When we’re not very good, and, heck, to survive and almost have our best finish of the year with one of the worst cars that we’ve had, I think that shows that we’re learning as a team. We can be struggling like that but we can have a good finish.”

Q: What was your view of the second-to-last restart when everyone bunched up?

“I don’t know. I was so far back. It [the No. 11 car] might have been out of fuel, it didn’t take off. When we went to take off I could see we weren’t taking off for a while. Either he was struggling all the way to come to the green or he was trying to check everybody up, whatever it was. But we just didn’t really take off for a long time, so I knew something bad was going to happen. We started stacking up, and Timmy, my spotter, did an awesome job getting me through that.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 232
Ragan 213
Menard 187
Reutimann 170
Allmendinger 153

Next Up: They say everything is bigger in Texas, and so are the steaks, I mean stakes for the ROTY candidates, as they now have only three more races to define their inaugural Nextel Cup season. Look for Reutimann and Allmendinger to avenge their DNQs at this track earlier this year, while Ragan and Montoya hope to regain their intermediate-track success after a hiccup this past weekend. Menard, meanwhile, will try to put on an encore performance after his 15th-place run in the Lone Star State this Spring.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I had confidence that Allmendinger would back up his Lowe’s performance at its sister track, and I was proven correct. I love when that happens. Both performances echoed each other, as the open-wheel star was quiet for most of the race before using a late-race surge to top his rookie counterparts. I have closed to within nine of you, ensuring that this battle will go down to the wire in Homestead.

You Make The Pick: To hell with NASCAR’s Top-35 rule… or so says the Hornish legion of fans. The Hornish legion of fans said as a whopping 85% of you chose “Someone Else” (i.e. Hornish) to best the rest of the rookies in Atlanta. I’d admire your spirit and determination, but unfortunately, those two elements alone weren’t enough to put the former Indy 500 champ in the Pep Boys 500 field.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: I like Allmendinger’s record on the quad ovals of late, but I think the original rookie master of this track type, Montoya, will resurface once again as the top rookie finisher in Texas this Sunday.

| 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 |
| Subway 500 | Martinsville | Reutimann | 17th | Reutimann | 17th | Montoya | 8th |
| Pep Boys Auto 500 | Atlanta | Allmendinger | 16th | Hornish, Jr. | DNQ | Allmendinger | 16th |

Season Scorecard: Tony 7, Readers 8

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