Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: 2007 Sharpie 500 at Bristol Edition

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (second), David Ragan (fourth), Aric Almirola (35th), Paul Menard (41st), AJ Allmendinger (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Montoya (17th), Menard (24th), Allmendinger (35th), Almirola (36th), Ragan (41st)

Rookie of the Race: Montoya. For the second time in the past five races, Montoya qualified his Texaco/Havoline Dodge on the outside of the front row; but this time at Bristol, more than a few eyebrows were raised. While qualifying second at Indy was impressive, the Colombian had made huge strides towards conquering his hardest challenge to date; transitioning to stock cars on tracks less than a mile long.

For the first 200 laps, it looked as if the former road-course ringer had figured out his short-track game, never falling out of the top 10. However, as the race wore on into the night, the No. 42 Dodge slowly faded, eventually finishing 17th. Still, the Sharpie 500 marked the 11th time in 2007 that Montoya finished as the race’s top-finishing rookie, continuing to lead this year’s freshman class in that category.

Tony’s Take: File this one under the “not pretty but effective” category. Montoya’s finish definitely did not reflect the potential shown early in the race; however, a top 20 at the treacherous Bristol Motor Speedway is nothing to complain about. In fact, there are numerous positives this team can take away from Saturday night’s event. It was by far one of the best performances for the rookie at a short track this season, tying his career-best starting position and bringing home his second-best finish at a venue less than a mile in length.

The Colombian also stayed out of trouble, a far cry from the two wrecks and multiple tempers he sparked at Thunder Valley in the spring. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he ran side-by-side with Kevin Harvick the entire night, and no high-school girl mud wrestling match broke out between the two. OK, so maybe there was one downer after all…

Rocky Rookie Performance: Ragan. It was three – yes, three caution flags – that pointed to Ragan as the center of the storm during Saturday night’s race in Bristol, Tenn. The evening started with such promise, as the AAA Ford Fusion rolled off the grid in fourth – Ragan’s career best qualifying effort to date. But that’s the best the No. 6 could do the entire event. On lap 60, Ragan was forced to bring the No. 6 machine to pit road for a bad vibration, returning to the race three laps off the pace.

This would only be the beginning of Ragan’s problems, as a faulty shifter was discovered; on lap 370, he looped around in turn 4 when his car finally popped out of gear. On lap 397, the hook from the bungee chord holding his shifter together came loose and once again Ragan went for a ride. Finally, on lap 422, the Georgia native hit the spin cycle for the final time.

At this point, crew chief Jimmy Fennig made perhaps his best call of the race when he told his driver to pull his racecar behind the wall and call it a night. After a weekend driving the bullring at Bristol and experiencing three spinouts, Ragan must have left Tennessee feeling like he was riding the “Tilt-a-Whirl” for about five straight hours.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Allmendinger and Almirola. Almirola, making his DEI debut, received a nudge from Jimmie Johnson‘s Lowe’s Impala on lap 227, sending the No. 01 Chevrolet into fellow rookie Allmendinger. Both damaged cars were able to continue; however, the accident ended all chances of turning around what was already a subpar night for both drivers.

Who Wasn’t Here?: David ReutimannOne has to look all the way back to the first weekend of June at Dover to find the last time Reutimann failed to make a race in which he was entered. As a small consolation, Reutimann did run strong in Friday night’s Busch Series event following his DNQ… he finished third.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: David Reutimann at the 2007 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Montoya on the drop-off in his car’s performance, as well as his take on running with new arch-rival Harvick throughout the night:

“You know, it’s my fault. I’m blaming myself. I was too loose for my taste, and I thought we were going to be too loose. We tightened up the car and it was just horrible. And when we tightened it up, we run for 130 laps, so we went a lap down there. It was hard but we had fun today, we ran good. I’m proud of my guys.”

You raced Harvick for position at the end of the race.
“We didn’t give each other too much room. He bumped me a couple times, but I don’t care. I’m not going to cry about it.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 216
Ragan 191
Menard 173
Reutimann 145
Allmendinger 89

Next Up: The NASCAR boys will be back to experience the Hollywood Nights of southern California, as the series heads to Fontana for the Sharp AQUOS 500. Many of the rookies ran here back in February and should benefit from what they learned about the D-shaped oval. The one exception is Reutimann – not because he missed the show, but because he experienced one of the hardest hits ever recorded in NASCAR there earlier this year. I tend to think he doesn’t remember much from that race and will be looking to get reacquainted with that track.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: Last week, as I was getting some much needed R&R at the beach, my colleague Tommy Thompson graciously filled in for me and chose Reutimann for this week’s top-finishing rookie. Ironically, Tommy predicted his own fate, stating: “His biggest hurdle will be having to qualify for the race on time.” Unfortunately, Reutimann did not clear that hurdle, missing the show at Bristol for the second time this year, a surprising fact considering the amount of Truck Series experience he has at the half-mile.

You Make the Pick: None of you could foresee the mysterious shifter problems Ragan would experience, as you thought he would come home as the top-finishing rookie. Alas, it wasn’t to be. However, a belated and reluctant congratulations from me on taking the lead in the season standings following Michigan.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie:
Menard finished in the top 20 in the first California race, as well as 12th in June at its sister track, Michigan. This team should also be starting to benefit from its newly acquired “locked-in” starting position, allowing them to concentrate more on race setup in practice. Finally, it simply seems Menard is due for a good run; so, I believe he will be first among the rookies in Fontana.

| 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 |

Season Score: Tony 5, Readers 6

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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