Paul Menard’s best finish of the season was at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished a career-high 12th in the Citizens Bank 400. Starting back in 38th, he methodically worked his way up through the pack, even leading a lap in the process – one of only three he’d lead all season in the Cup Series.
The final checkered flag has waived for 2007, a champion has been crowned, and the end of season awards have been distributed to their deserving recipients at the NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York City. But before we leave the season behind, there’s just one thing left to do; I, Professor Lumbis, need to assign the final grades for 2007 freshman class as they completed their first season on the Nextel Cup tour. Grades will be based on the accomplishments and shortfalls for each rookie contender while previewing what their goals should be for 2008, as each driver tries to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
While admirable performances were put in by a handful of teams, Sunday’s final results leaned heavily in favor of the playoff participants – again. For the second straight week, eight of the top 10 finishers were also among the top 12 in Nextel Cup points, making it difficult to argue that any of the Chasers didn’t deserve to be ranked amongst NASCAR’s elite. But what about those drivers left behind? Now, just one race remains for any of them to salvage seasons that clearly didn’t turn out the way they intended. Read on to find out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not, outside the Chase for the Championship.
Montoya has enjoyed a good amount of his non-road course success on quad ovals this year, and at one point in time, it appeared this weekend’s race at Texas would be no different. The Colombian started the event from the inside of row 2 and by lap 7, he had his Texaco/Havoline Dodge comfortably in the lead. Although the top spot was relinquished to Jeff Gordon during pit stops on lap 16, the rookie would still make his presence felt in the top 10 for the majority of the race’s first quarter.
By the end of Saturday night’s event, many spectators were looking at the No. 6 car and saying, “Where did that guy come from?” It was a very similar to his “stealthy” performance last week at Fontana, where hardly anyone noticed David Ragan as he quietly battled to a top-15 finish. A late season surge from this team should not surprise anyone; in fact, this is the type of performance I expect from this team as they revisit many of these Nextel Cup venues for the second time. Ragan is starting to look more and more like his Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth each week, staying out of trouble while dialing in his racecar for the end of the event. Clearly, he’s becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The two-car battle for the 35th and final position in owner points is close to becoming a three-team race – and that new third team is a team that’s slumping rather than one stepping up as the season nears its stretch run. While its sister car streaked to a second straight top 10 finish at Bristol, the No. 45 from Petty Enterprises seems to have been left behind. The Dodge continues to struggle each and every week, whether it’s Kyle Petty, Chad McCumbee, or Kenny Wallace behind the wheel – a 32nd-place run for Wallace at Bristol is the team’s best finish in five weeks, with results of 41st, 42nd, 33rd and 41st coming in the previous four races. That has left the team dangerously on the edge of falling into the grasp of teams below them.
Frontstretch’s Tony Lumbis sat down with Paul Menard on Friday at Pocono Raceway to discuss the young driver’s season-to-date, how the merger has affected his perception of DEI’s future, and how Teresa Earnhardt is a far different person than people might think.
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, Kurt Busch, or one of Kurt Busch’s fans (yes – he actually does have some), then you probably found Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono a real snoozefest. Busch started from second position, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., but didn’t stay there long; he made a mockery out of the race, leading 175 laps en route to his first win of the year and a spot inside the top 12 in points. Unlike recent weeks, there weren’t any potential Chasers that ran into major trouble on Sunday; the 14 main contenders all finished in the top 17 positions, making the race for the Chase more competitive than ever with just five races remaining.
Chicago is known for football, deep-dish pizza, shopping, and the Sears Tower; sadly, it’s not yet known for great racing. However, there was at least one driver who didn’t sleep through the Chicagoland snoozefest; that would be Tony Stewart, who celebrated the end of his 20-race winless drought with another climb up the fence.
Editor’s Note: Each week, we’ll go through all the media reports, interviews, PR and our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Nextel Cup race to capture the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find; the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, …