Montoya, Ragan chasing Ambrose in rookie race

Rookie Marcos Ambrose has a three-prong attack in the Busch Series: Run consistently, take calculated risks, and improve week to week. So far, so good, writes Rupen Fofaria.

Updated: April 25, 2007, 2:43 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

The Busch Series rookie race is a three-driver sprint early on, and it's the guy on top who's turning most heads.

Marcos Ambrose crew (59)
Jason D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE Every weekend is a learning experience for Marcos Ambrose, even the bad ones.

Juan Pablo Montoya has found success in other forms of racing and is already coming on strong in Nextel Cup. David Ragan, while taking his bumps and bruises in the Busch Series, is also trying his hand at a full-time Cup campaign.

But both are chasing Tasmanian driver Marcos Ambrose, until recently an unknown in American racing whose focus on the Busch Series leads us to believe he wants the rookie award worse than anyone.

"This is a rookie year and we are learning all the time with every single racetrack and every single experience," Ambrose said. "It's just about putting consistent runs together, trying things and making sure we are continually improving.

"I'm really happy with where things sit at the moment, not only with the points, but how we are moving forward together as a team."

Ambrose ranks eighth in the standings, five spots ahead of Ragan and nine positions better than Montoya. For Ragan, his concern isn't about sitting outside the top 10 or ranking third in the Busch rookie race. It's about figuring out how to string together consistent runs so he can parlay it into Cup success.

"We need to put ourselves in position to finish races and ultimately win races," Ragan said. "We should be in contention for at least top-10 finishes every week, no excuses."

For his part, Montoya makes few excuses. He takes Busch Series racing seriously, but he says his ultimate goal is success in Cup.

"I'm learning," he said. "That is important."

Hard times for former rookie star

No one can take away the title of rookie of the year from Danny O'Quinn, but last year's success means little during this very different season. O'Quinn has started only two races this year. He finished just outside the top 20 in each, but Saturday rides have been few and far between.

On Saturday at Talladega, O'Quinn will head back to his Roush Racing ride from last season and reunite with his old crew chief.

"Drew Blickensderfer was my crew chief last year, so we are familiar with each other and I think that will help us considerably," he said. "We ran well at the superspeedway races last year, and I think we can pick up where we left off when we get on track this weekend."

Cicci Racing pulls plug

Change is far too common in NASCAR these days, but losing longtime owners like Frank Cicci is a shame. Cicci, who has owned race cars for two decades, closed shop on Cicci Racing when the money well dried up. Without a sponsor, his six races this season may well be his last.

"I have been paying this out of my pocket for the first seven races and just couldn't do it anymore," he said.

Rupen Fofaria has covered NASCAR for ESPN.com since 2002. He can be reached at rupenisracin@yahoo.com.