Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: David Ragan Rocks at Richmond

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (eighth), Juan Pablo Montoya (15th), David Reutimann (24th), AJ Allmendinger (27th), Paul Menard (38th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Ragan (third), Reutimann (13th), Allmendinger (23rd), Menard (26th), Montoya (41st)

Rookie of the Race: Ragan. Ragan turned in yet another strong short-track qualifying performance as he rolled off the grid in eighth, his second career-best starting position following a fourth two weeks ago at Bristol. For the better part of the night, though, it looked as if the AAA team would not be able to back up time trials with a strong run in the race.

Ragan quickly fell back through the pack, narrowly avoiding the incidents that are so common back in the field. Just before lap 150, he found himself sandwiched between the wall and the No. 25 car of Casey Mears, a wreck that could have ended the rookie’s night. But the No. 6 Ford Fusion sustained little damage and was able to continue, only to again be placed in harm’s way.

On lap 243, Ragan was forced to get hard on the brakes to avoid the spinning car of Ryan Newman and the flaming vehicle of Montoya, his second near-miss of the night. However, that crash was a turning point; after successfully playing the game of survival, Ragan and crew chief Jimmy Fennig were able to dial the No. 6 machine in for the final third of the race. The rookie went on to record the best finish of his young career, charging hard in the final 50 laps to work his way up to third position. It was the 11th time this season Ragan has finished as the race’s top rookie, tying him with Montoya for the lead in that category.

Tony’s Take: 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 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.

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Honorable Mention: With a podium finish, there is no way anyone can take away Ragan’s award; however, the other David, as in Reutimann, should not go unnoticed. Reutimann recorded a career best 13th-place finish at Richmond on Saturday night; kudos to the entire Burger King team for a job well done. This could not have come at a better time for Reutimann, either, who reportedly is in contract negotiations with a handful of teams for the 2008 season.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Menard. This team’s performance, or lack thereof, continues to surprise me at this stage of the game. Menard qualified a dismal 38th for the race, spun on his own early on and wound up coming home a disappointing 26th. After a solid 16th-place showing at the Virginia track in May and having the weight of having to qualify lifted off their shoulders, I expected much more from this team this past weekend… but alas, a strong finish was not to be. Look for Menard, crew chief Dave Charpentier and the entire No. 15 team to try and right the ship down the stretch as they prepare for 2008.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Montoya. After being involved in a few “almost wrecks,” Montoya ensured that he would capture the “wreck of the day” category in style. As the field was getting up the speed following the evening’s seventh caution, the No. 12 car of Newman spun down the front straightaway. Newman’s teammate Kurt Busch slammed on the brakes, leaving Montoya with nowhere to go except into the rear end of the Miller Lite Dodge.

Soon after, the severely wounded No. 42 car erupted into flames, forcing Montoya to hastily leave the vehicle on Richmond’s “front lawn.” Afterwards, he seemed rather unfazed by the incident, even appearing to try and brush off NASCAR’s mandatory trip to the infield care center. However, his race was adversely affected, as Montoya recorded his third DNF of the season, finishing 41st.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Everybody was here! For the third consecutive race, all rookies made the field. It looks like they’re getting the hang of this qualifying thing as the season enters the homestretch.

Rookie Quote of the Week: Ragan, on racing with Nextel Cup champions at the end of the race:

Question: You raced Jeff Gordon and Stewart hard in the closing laps (at Richmond).

“I don’t think my name belongs up there in that list. It’s pretty cool to be able to race with ’em. They’re racing for a Chase spot, they’re racing for a championship and one day, hopefully, we’ll be up there. You’ve got to give them a little bit of extra courtesy on a night like tonight, but when you have a good car it just makes everything easier. We got in the back one time and were able to fight out way up through.

“It was just a lot of fun. Richmond is a great racetrack. The temperature was perfect. We just had a lot of fun passing some cars, inside, outside, and we just fine-tuned on our AAA Ford all night. A little bit of air pressure, maybe just a half a round of wedge or something like that, but nothing much… our car was pretty good from the get-go.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 218
Ragan 204
Menard 176
Reutimann 156
Allmendinger 108

Next Up: The season returns to the Magic Mile in Loudon, N.H. to kick off the first race of the 2008 Chase. Next week’s event will also be raced with the Car of Tomorrow; also, New Hampshire is another short track similar to Richmond. With those two things in mind, expect those that ran well this past weekend to follow with another strong run this coming Sunday.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I had a feeling that Ragan would run well at Richmond, but I didn’t expect him to be quite this good. Congrats again to the entire AAA team for both their strong finish… and for ending my drought!

You Make the Pick: In some extremely tight voting between Reutimann, Menard and Montoya, 29% of you felt that Menard would follow up his strong May performance with a top rookie finish. It was not to be, however, and we are all tied up in the standings once again!

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: I’m really tempted to pick Ragan to continue his momentum into New Hampshire. He just might; however, I have a feeling that Reutimann will follow-up his career best finish with a top finishing rookie performance.

| 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 |

Season Scorecard: Tony 6, 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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