2016 appears to be the year of the rookie for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. There are actually five rookies running full time, but two of those have shown some promise early. Both are from veteran teams, while one is practically driving without a safety net. Of course every rookie is not going to have an easy road at the beginning, but finding an opening and driving smart is key to where these two rookies are right now.
After Fontana, it appears to be Chase Elliott from Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Blaney from Wood Brothers Racing vying for Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR. The three remaining rookies, Brian Scott, Xfinity Champion Chris Buescher and Jeffrey Earnhardt don’t appear to have a shot like the other two drivers do. The new charter system looks to have widened the door for the open drivers without charters, but performances can only take them so far.
Elliott has taken the place of Jeff Gordon in the number 24 car with a brand new color and sponsors. Elliott’s biggest moment so far in his rookie season is winning the Daytona 500 pole. A lot of drivers and analysts have thought he would get his first win quickly, but so far that hasn’t been the case as of yet. Along with his only pole, Elliott has three top 10 finishes so far, with a best finish of sixth at Fontana. Although he’s tied with Blaney in 16th, Elliott leads in the rookie standings with 60 points.
What’s most likely the biggest surprise is Ryan Blaney in the legendary number 21 car for WBR. Most importantly, they are an open team since not competing full time the last three years. WBR announced their full time schedule for 2016 while at the same time formed an alliance with Team Penske. It’s most likely that the Penske alliance is key to where Blaney stands right now and how much he’s performed. Blaney is also the only open driver being competitive.
With a seventh place start at Daytona and two top 10’s in Las Vegas and Phoenix, Blaney has helped WBR stay inside the top 16 and hang with the veteran drivers. So far Blaney and WBR are out to prove that you don’t need a charter to stay competitive. Only a few strings to pull and helping out those who they are linked with. Blaney’s improvement can help Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski when needed.
This is truly a two man race to become Rookie of the Year in the Sprint Cup Series. Both are second generation drivers looking to make a name for themselves, and have now put themselves on the Sprint Cup map.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Bryan Law