On Tuesday, in front of the Speedway Club at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the three Raybestos Rookie of the Year winners peeled the yellow stripes off their bumpers and joined the ranks of NASCAR veterans.
"When I first came here, they told me I was running for Raybestos Rookie of the Year, and I was like, ’you’ve got to be kidding me,’" said Montoya, the 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and a seven-time winner in Formula One. "I thought I would be an exception or something. In a lot of ways, I really was a rookie. Do I have a lot of experience as a racing driver? Yes, but I’ve never been in a stock car before, so coming here and getting into it was a big deal. We had a lot of fun."
It’s also a financial honor, as Montoya will receive a record 106,500 USD at next week’s NASCAR Awards Banquet in New York City.
Montoya won the rookie battle over Ragan by 24 points, winning Rookie of the Race honors in three of the last five races to earn that edge. Rookie of the Year points are awarded on a 10-1 scale (the highest-finishing rookie gets 10 points, the second highest-finishing rookie gets 9, etc.).
"It’s been an exciting year for me," Montoya said. "Coming to NASCAR was a big deal for me, and I wanted to go back and enjoy racing, and I think I achieved that here. The cars are a handful, and it’s been a really hard transition."
Rookie Standings - Nextel Cup Series
Ragan finished second to Montoya in the Nextel Cup rookie battle, but won the honor in the Busch Series over fellow Ford driver Marcos Ambrose, 272-245.
"There were a lot of ups and downs, running both series," Ragan said. "We came close to Juan on the Cup side, and I learned a lot on Saturdays to race with on Sunday. I learned to use the things I learned one day and incorporate it to the following day. At times it was pretty challenging."
Ragan, son of former NASCAR driver Ken Ragan, is the third consecutive driver from what is now known as Roush Fenway Racing to earn the award in the Busch Series, following Carl Edwards in 2005 and Danny O’Quinn last year. Greg Biffle won the award for Roush in 2001.
Rookie Standings - Busch Series
Allen, who drove the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet Silverado, won the Craftsman Truck Series award by a narrow eight points over Tim Sauter, 196-188. He won the Raybestos Rookie of the Race title five times, including three of the last six races to take the title. Sauter won two of the last three races to make it close.
"This means a lot," he said. "I can’t thank Raybestos and NASCAR enough. Just to be on the list of all the drivers who have received it in the past and gone on to the Cup Series and made a name for themselves is an honor. This is the goal all of us rookies set out to achieve, winning Raybestos Rookie of the Year. That was our goal and we achieved it, myself and the team, and no matter what happens from here, they can’t take this away from us."
Allen, who will return to the Thor Chevy next season, is confident that 2008 will see his team improve on his 15th-place championship finish.
Rookie Standings - Craftsman Truck Series
Raybestos, a division of Affinia Group Inc., is a global leader in the on- and off-highway replacement parts and service industry and is based in McHenry, III.