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Rookie battles not what they used to be

With five races remaining in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s way too early to start engraving trophies, especially the trophy for the eventual champion and the smaller trophies handed out to occupants of specific positions inside the top-10.

But maybe there are a couple of shoe-ins for certain awards. For example, chances are that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will, once again, be voted the sports most popular driver. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if Earnhardt claims the honor, yet again, but at least he’s not the only driver in the running for it.

The same can’t be said for the year-end Rookie of the Year award. And that’s been the case for at least the last couple of years. Not to mention the sport’s most popular driver again, but what happened to the years like 2000? Years in which at least a couple of drivers were embroiled in a battle to be the circuit’s top newcomer.

To refresh your memory, the class of 2000 started out with something like five or six new drivers, with Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth battling it out near the end of the year to be the year’s top Cup rookie. In case you don’t remember or weren’t following the sport then and want to know how that story played out, Kenseth claimed the honor.

The year before that, Tony Stewart seemed to be heads and shoulders above any other newcomer to the series, but at least he had Elliott Sadler and one or two others as competition for Rookie of the Year.

Those days seem to be over, but hopefully, not permanently. It’s been a few years since there’s been a heated rookie battle in the Sprint Cup Series. Last year, Andy Lally was crowned the circuit’s top newcomer. Early in the year, he and Brian Keselowski looked to be the only two rookies to the series planning to run the entire schedule. Keselowski struggled to get from race weekend to race weekend, running his own cash-strapped team. By the end of the season, Keselowski had long since fallen by the wayside, pretty much leaving Lally to accept the Rookie of the Year award pretty much by default.

It was a case of same song second verse, if you ask me. In 2010, Kevin Conway was named Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year. Here’s a little bit of trivia for you. Who did Conway beat out for the honor? Can’t come up with the answer? That’s okay; it was a trick question, because he had no competition for the award. Conway was Rookie of the Year in 2010, because he was the only rookie.

There are actually two rookies this season. Quick, name them. Stumped? They’re Josh Wise and Stephen Leicht, neither of which have competed all season, or at least not on a full-time basis. Wise is the closest to being a full-time driver, with 26 starts in the 31 races so far this season. I guess he’ll be Rookie of the Year by virtue of being the newcomer with the most race starts under his belt. After all, he’s competed in double the number of races of Leicht, with 13 starts.

Maybe NASCAR should go ahead and have next year’s Rookie of the Year trophy engraved with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s name. So far, his name has been the only one mentioned as a Sprint Cup rookie next year. Of course, it is still 2012, maybe another newcomer will burst onto the Sprint Cup scene by Daytona in February.

If there aren’t a minimum number of viable candidates for Rookie of the Year in a given season, should the honor even be awarded? Seems kind of like a hollow victory to me. That opinion is by no way meant to slight or criticize drivers who have been the only rookie in their respective first season on the circuit. But does Rookie of the Year mean all that much when you’re the only rookie?

Be sure to follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook. Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner

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Posted by on October 18, 2012. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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