Race Weekend Central

Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Texas Terrible Track for Juan Pablo Montoya, Other Freshmen

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (third), AJ Allmendinger (fifth), Paul Menard (16th), David Ragan (33rd), David Reutimann (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Montoya (25th), Menard (30th), Ragan (37th), Allmendinger (39th), Reutimann (43rd)

Rookie of the Race: Montoya, barely. 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.

A loose condition would start to plague the No. 42 Charger after that, leaving Montoya sliding backwards but still in contention for a good finish with the right adjustments. However, an ill-handling car would turn out to be the least of this team’s problems; their engine dropped a cylinder just before the lap 200 mark, and a cracked valve head left Montoya simply trying to limp the car home in one piece. Nursing his ride to a 25th-place result, it was perhaps the least impressive of his series-leading 15 top-rookie finishes.

Tony’s Take: Montoya’s strong performance early was the only thing that kept me from not awarding a Rookie of the Race altogether. Montoya beat his accident-plagued counterparts by simply surviving until the end, and his mechanical woes halted what was shaping up to be one of the driver’s better runs of 2007. Sunday’s race accounted for 10 of the 26 laps Montoya has led all season; that’s even more than the seven he led en route to his first career victory at Sonoma.

It may be small consolation now, but look for this team to carry what little momentum they gained from what might have been into the final two events of the year. They include Phoenix, a flat track similar to Indianapolis – where Montoya finished second in July – and Homestead, the site of his Nextel Cup debut a year ago, where a respectable run was ended by the first of what’s been many altercations with Ryan Newman.

Rocky Rookie Performances/Rookie Wrecks of the Day: Everybody else. Where do I begin? Allmendinger looked like he would continue his hot streak in style with a fifth-place qualifying effort. However, early contact with Denny Hamlin was the first of many things to go wrong with the rookie’s race. Seemingly annoyed that this incident did not bring out a much-needed caution, Allmendinger slapped the turn 2 wall on lap 21, which did bring out the event’s second yellow flag.

Now ticked that he no longer had a competitive car, the Californian eventually ended his day altogether when he last control of his Camry coming off turn 2, hitting the inside wall in the process. I’m not saying that Allmendinger intentionally wrecked his car, but after the day he had, could you blame him if this were the case?

Reutimann also fell victim of early contact from another machine when his competitors got bunched up ahead of him on pit road. Soon thereafter, the engine on the Burger King Camry let go, relegating Reutimann to finish in the same position he began the day in, last.

Keeping the trend alive, Menard also suffered early misery when he lost control of the Menards Chevy and backed it into the wall, bringing out the race’s first caution. His name would hardly be mentioned again for the rest of the day, coming home a dismal 30th, 12 laps off the pace.

Finally, Ragan must have thought it was his lucky day when his Ford Fusion remained in one piece after the first 20 laps of the race. In fact, the Georgian was quietly maneuvering his No. 6 car through the pack, poised for a top-rookie finish, when all hell broke loose ahead of him on lap 220. Casey Mears and Tony Stewart made contact in turn 2, sending both into the spin cycle and blocking the track for those competitors behind them. One of those unlucky men was Ragan, who was one of the innocent victims in this calamity. The incident would end his day with a disappointing DNF and accompanying 37th-place finish.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Burney LamarSam Hornish Jr. took a week off from this category. No, he didn’t make the race; he just didn’t attempt it altogether. Instead, Lamar, attempting to make his first career Nextel Cup start with E&M Motorsports, became Hornish’s one-week replacement. However, it wasn’t NASCAR’s much despised Top-35 rule that kept Lamar from making the field. He was just slow, plain and simple, much farther off from making the cut than his time at Atlanta one race ago.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: In this week’s quote segment, Ragan tries to make sense of the incident that ended his day. However, more noteworthy is his analysis of how the car was handling. Note the patience that was being displayed by this young rookie, something we didn’t always see earlier in 2007. This is a sign of maturity, experience, and that the best is yet to come from the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

“I don’t know. I just saw everyone checking up. My spotter even said ‘Hey, the bottom lane is checking up.’ We were on the outside and before I knew it, I don’t know if I got drilled in the back or just checked up too quick and lost it. It’s just very unfortunate for the AAA team. Everyone worked really hard. I thought we had a pretty good car. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Q: Was your car getting better?
“The track was really slick at first, and you just had to be really easy with the throttle. You couldn’t overdrive it. Like I said, our car would drive pretty good on the bottom and it had good speed, and we were just kind of making our way up to the front slowly but surely. I felt like we had a top-10 or top-15 car when we wrecked. I really don’t know what happened. I just need to see a replay.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Montoya 243
Ragan 222
Menard 197
Reutimann 177
Allmendinger 161

Next Up: The series heads to the desert southwest to visit Phoenix International Raceway for the second time this year. The first trip to the Arizona track was not pleasant for the rookies, as they tried to tackle one of the more unique tracks on the circuit at one of the first Car of Tomorrow events. Menard, the top-finishing rookie, was only a subpar 25th. Expect better results this time now that teams have had numerous CoT races under their belts. I would also think that all five Rookie of the Year Candidates will be back with a vengeance after a pathetic showing at Texas.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: If it weren’t for his strong showing before losing a cylinder, I’d almost feel bad about giving myself credit for correctly choosing Montoya as the top-finishing rookie, almost. Still, Montoya was able to best his rookie rivals by simply surviving and coming home 25th.

You Make the Pick: 36% of you thought that Allmendinger would continue his strong performances on quad ovals. It looked good early, as Allmendinger qualified a career best fifth. However, the Red Bull team ran into problems right from the start and could not muster another top-rookie performance. We are now tied with only two to go – so the pressure is on!

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: Roush Fenway Racing’s CoT program has shown vast improvement in the second half of the year. I think Ragan will benefit from this improved performance and best the rest of the rookies this Sunday.

| 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 |

Season Scorecard: Tony 8, Readers 8

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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