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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: David Ragan Wins Battle at Homestead… But Montoya Wins War

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (seventh), Patrick Carpentier (28th), Sam Hornish Jr. (29th), Juan Pablo Montoya (33rd), David Reutimann (35th), Paul Menard (39th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Ragan (10th), Montoya (15th), Reutimann (25th), Menard (35th), Hornish (37th), Carpentier (40th)

Rookie of the Race: Ragan. It was a solid end to a rookie season for Ragan at Homestead, as he started the final race of the year in a career second best seventh qualifying spot. It was a quiet day for him after that; which, in many ways, was a good thing for the Georgia native. Ragan ran in the top 20 for much of the race and his Jimmy Fennig-led pit crew got the No. 6 Ford on and off pit road efficiently with solid stops throughout the afternoon. Although the car wasn’t quite right through the middle part of the race, patience and persistence paid off for this team as they brought home a 10th-place finish. It was Ragan’s third career top 10 and 14th top-rookie finish this season.

Tony’s Take: It’s been a few weeks since we heard from Mr. Ragan, as he has been gaining more notoriety for his car acrobatics than his performance of late. However, on Sunday he reminded the NASCAR world that his team had been gaining momentum down the stretch, as they turned in solid performances over the past few months. While Montoya showed his muscle throughout the race, it was Ragan who bested his rookie counterpart at the end of the night. The AAA driver has been saying for quite some time now that this team was capable of top-10 finishes. Perhaps this won’t be the last time we see Ragan better Montoya, as both of these promising stars will battle for many years to come.

Speaking of Montoya, congratulations to both he and his entire Texaco/Havoline team on earning the 2007 Rookie of the Year title. It certainly has been an interesting season for the Colombian, one which I’ll review in more detail when final grades are awarded to each rookie in the upcoming weeks.

Rocky Rookie Performance/Rookie Wreck of the Day: Carpentier. For the second straight week, Carpentier put the No. 10 car into the field, which, for the second week in a row, proved to be the biggest accomplishment for NASCAR’s newest rookie. Carpentier was having already struggling when he learned yet another important lesson: 3,000-pound stock cars take longer to slow than open-wheel cars. The Canadian missed the memo about everyone slowing up to avoid the spinning car of Johnny Sauter on lap 159. That’s when he clipped the side of Brian Vickers‘s Toyota, sending the No. 83 machine hard into the inside wall. The incident left the Valvoline Dodge with significant damage, ending any chance of salvaging a decent finish on the day. Still, Carpentier is sure to be looking for a fresh start in 2008 after a rough outing in the final two races of this season.

Who Wasn’t Here?: AJ Allmendinger and Burney Lamar. Allmendinger ended the 2007 season in the same fashion that he started it in… going home early. It was certainly an up and down season for the former open wheel sensation; over the past month, he earned his two career-best finishes. He also will have the distinction of participating in Toyota’s inaugural year in the Nextel Cup Series; but the downside of course, was missing races, as his team was unable to make half of the events this season. Allmendinger has way too much talent to suffer through a second consecutive season of disappointments, so look for this team to be back with a vengeance in 2008.

Lamar wrecked during his qualifying attempt on Friday, unable to complete a lap; as a result, he missed the field as well.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Montoya shares his thoughts on winning the Rookie of the Year and some of the lessons he’s learned in 2007.

What’s the main thing that you’ve learned this year?

“Bring the car home every week. Whether it’s 35th or first, bring it home. That’s very important.”

Comment on your Raybestos Rookie of the Year season.

“I think it went pretty good. It’s a bit of every[thing] now, up and down. I think everybody at Ganassi did an amazing job. It’s one of those deals I think it was more for us to lose than win so I think it came out pretty good. I think it’s more important we had a race win. I think for the record books and stuff, I think it’s pretty good that I won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year.”

Can you compare being a rookie in Nextel Cup to being a rookie in another series?

“I think I’ve been the rookie before in a lot of series but being a rookie with the experience I had it’s very different. I had no stock car experience but I think from my open wheel background I raced pretty much about everything you can race. I think it’s pretty cool. I think it’s good for the team. I think it’s something to cheer about in the team. I think what’s more important is how the performance of the team came up through the whole year. Where we started and where we finished is a big difference.”

Ragan talks about the significance of ending the year on a high note:

How big is it to get a top 10 going into 2008?

“Oh, it’s big. For us at this point, just to finish would have been great. The last month has been tough. A solid top 10 will give us something to talk about. We’ve got a lot of the same guys coming back next year, so that’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Raybestos Rookie Standings

Stay tuned to Frontstretch for the official final rookie standings of 2007.

Next Up: We’re done! The series will return for the Great American Race in February, featuring a whole new crop of rookies including Dario Franchitti, Carpentier, Hornish and Jacques Villeneuve. As always, keep reading Frontstretch as we will keep you up to date on anyone else who enters the rookie race for ’08 and we’ll preview all of the new freshman for next year.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I thought Menard would finish on a high note, but it was not to be, as a spin on lap 78 relegated him to a disappointing 35th-place finish… forcing me to play second fiddle to my readers in our competition.

You Make The Pick: 40% of you picked Montoya as the top rookie for the Ford 400. It looked like you were going to be right for much of the race, but Ragan snuck the honor away in Homestead’s final segment. However, you didn’t need the extra points, as you beat me by one for the top-rookie pick competition in 2008. Congratulations, and thanks to all of you who participated in our survey throughout the year!

| 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 |
| Dickies 500 | Texas | Montoya | 25th | Allmendinger | 39th | Montoya | 25th |
| Checker Auto Parts 500K | Phoenix | Ragan | 32nd | Montoya | 17th | Montoya | 17th|
| Ford 400 | Homestead | Menard | 35th | Montoya | 15th | Ragan | 10th |

Season Scorecard: Tony 8, Readers 9

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