Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: 2007 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Edition

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (ninth), PJ Jones (30th), David Reutimann (31st), Paul Menard (35th), David Ragan (36th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Montoya (16th), Menard (26th), Ragan (33rd), Jones (37th), Reutimann (41st)

Rookie of the Race: Montoya. After qualifying his Dodge Charger on the outside of row 4 for Sunday’s race at Pocono, it appeared that Montoya was poised to have another strong run following his second-place finish at Indianapolis. In fact, Montoya did look strong throughout the first quarter of the race, remaining in or just outside of the top 10.

But as the race wore on, so did Montoya’s attention span, as at one point he made a remark about how long the race was. Struggling to keep his No. 42 machine on the bottom, the Rookie of the Year points leader began to fade, and he eventually wound up 16th in the final running order. Still, it was Montoya’s 10th top-finishing rookie honor in the 2007 season – leading all first-year drivers in that category.

Tony’s Take: After such a strong showing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, another flat 2.5-mile track, many thought that the Texaco/Havoline team would be able to carry momentum into this weekend at Pocono. Well, the momentum was evident – but only on Friday. After turning in multiple lackluster qualifying performances this year, Montoya now has two straight top-10 starting spots to his credit.

But come Sunday, the team reverted back to some of its old ways, starting out strong early only to fade by the time the checkered flag flew. All in all, though, it’s not a bad day when you are a little off and still come home in the top 20. Even with a 16th-place finish, Montoya continues to be in a league of his own over the past few weeks as compared to his rookie counterparts.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Reutimann. If Toyota wants to know what they need to do to take the next step in order to be competitive, they need to look no further than Michael Waltrip Racing, specifically Reutimann’s No. 00 machine. For the third consecutive race, the Burger King Camry’s day was cut short by mechanical problems. This time, it was a faulty fuel pump that put the No. 00 behind the wall for good, ironically the same problem the ended the day for his MWR teammate, Dale Jarrett.

Rookie Wreck of the Weekend: Ragan. Although Ragan was involved in an incident on the Long Pond Straightaway during the race, the more significant wreck actually happened on Friday. During the first practice session, Ragan put his AAA Ford Fusion into the wall, forcing the team to a backup car for the rest of the weekend. After the wreck, that new No. 6 car found itself toward the bottom of the chart in both qualifying and the second practice session.

Furthermore, Ragan was not able to participate in Happy Hour with his commitment for the Montreal Busch race, giving the team even less time to shake down the new car. The effects of the incident were evident on Sunday – Ragan finished 33rd and was never a factor during the race.

Who Wasn’t Here?: AJ AllmendingerAs if the summer qualifying slump wasn’t bad enough for the Californian rookie, Allmendinger did not make things any easier for both he and his team by backing his car into the wall during Friday morning’s practice. The team was forced to use a backup car that turned in the fourth-slowest time during qualifying, earning him a ride home for the remainder of the weekend.

On the bright side, though, Allmendinger will have a chance to end this nightmare next week at Watkins Glen. Road courses should be this former open-wheel star’s specialty – however, the team missed the show at Sonoma in June, so making the race is never a foregone conclusion with this group. Still, I look for redemption for the No. 84 team in New York State this week.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: I had the opportunity to sit with Menard and Reutimann this past weekend at Pocono. Here are some excerpts from those interviews: stay tuned to Frontstretch for information on when the full conversation will be available.

Reutimann has out-qualified his teammates for most of the season, and it happened again at Pocono. He provides some insight into this phenomenon:

“Ya know, I’ve been asked that a lot and I really don’t have any answers. I mean, both those guys are good qualifiers. I just think that my guys are doing a really great job. [Crew Chief] Frankie Kerr has been doing a good job getting the cars set up for me. I probably drive more like an idiot on those laps than they do. I just drive it as hard as I can, [and] not that those guys don’t, but I think the setups for our cars have been better for qualifying; at least how I like to qualify.”

Pocono is the second race since the DEI/Ginn Racing merger, and Menard tells has how the new organization has been shaping up in the early stages.

“It’s been really good. I got to go to the new shop on (last) Monday and look it over, and the place is huge. There’s definitely enough floor space for four teams, probably on the same floor. All of it is open, so everybody knows what everybody’s got. Obviously, we’ve got the points, and that’s huge [referring to his team taking over the No. 14 team’s owner points]. Now we can just focus on going racing and with Mark Martin helping us out, there’s definitely nobody in the garage area with more knowledge and more experience than Mark to help a young guy like myself.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 210
Ragan 186
Menard 151
Reutimann 134
Allmendinger 78

Next Up: The series makes its second and final road-course visit when it heads to the Finger Lakes region of New York for the Centurion Boats at The Glen. Although the rookies have some Nextel Cup road-course experience from earlier this year, most drivers will tell you that Watkins Glen and Sonoma are two very different racetracks. Look for most of the rookies who are not road-course ringers (or named Montoya) to struggle as they try to learn yet another set of twists and turns.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I felt pretty good about Ragan’s chances to come home with a strong finish this weekend at Pocono. What I could not anticipate was the wreck in practice that would essentially derail the Georgia native’s chances for a solid finish – the youngster’s poor performance left me out of luck for yet another week.

You Make The Pick: You, on the other hand, recognized the potential for momentum to follow Montoya to Pocono as 60% chose him as the Pennsylvania 500’s highest finishing rookie. Congrats! The pressure is on for me now, as we are all tied up!

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: It really annoys me when writers, TV and radio announcers, or your drinking buddy constantly choose the favorite team/driver/player to win the game/race/match. I’m talking about those people who have picked the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl this year, or those who chose either the Red Sox or Yankees to win the AL Pennant. That’s really going out on a limb there guys; steal the same pick that everyone and their mother is taking. That’s no fun!

Why do I mention this? Because today I’m going to be one of those annoying people, picking Montoya as the top rookie at Watkins Glen. This may not be the shoe-in that everyone thinks, however. Remember, the Colombian struggled a bit with keeping his car off of his competitors at Sonoma before using pit strategy to propel him to victory lane. Also, remember that many of the road course ringers will be considered rookies as well, putting them in position to challenge for the top spot.

*Jones, who practiced the No. 7 car in Happy Hour, drove for driver/owner Robby Gordon on Sunday. Gordon was suspended by NASCAR for failing to heed the black flag during Saturday’s Busch race in Montreal. Since Gordon himself had qualified the car, Jones actually started the race from the back of the field.

| 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 |

Season Score: Tony 5, Readers 5

About the author

Tony Lumbis has headed the Marketing Department for Frontstretch since 2008. Responsible for managing our advertising portfolio, he deals with our clients directly, closing deals while helping promote the site’s continued growth both inside and outside the racing community through social media and traditional outlets. Tony is based outside Philadelphia.

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