Has the Sprint Cup Rookie Title Lost Its Luster?

Posted by imelda sovzky on Saturday, February 4, 2012

By Paul Oliveri

Paul is a rookie blogger. He has been a die hard NASCAR fan for 13 years.  He also enjoys other racing series, such as IndyCar, F1, and Grand-Am. And you can find Paul's NASCAR artwork on YouTube at his channel, paulsack21.

Sunoco sponsors the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year title
There are currently no announced ROTY candidates for 2012
And Josh Wise is the only potential candidate pending sponsorship
In 2004, the Raybestos - now Sunoco - Rookie of the Year class featured six drivers; Kasey Kahne, Brendan Gaughan, Brian Vickers, Johnny Sauter, Scott Wimmer, and Scott Riggs. Just seven years later, Andy Lally picked up the ROTY Award without any real challenge. I don't mean to take anything away from Lally, but the award just isn't what it was a decade ago.

The last great rookie performance, in my opinion, was the two-wins, third-place points finish we saw from Denny Hamlin in 2006. Since then, there really hasn't been a desire to find fresh, new faces. Just one year later, the ROTY Award was won by Juan Pablo Montoya, already an Indy 500 and Monaco GP winner.

A lot of the recent rookies have come from another form of racing, and are already established with star power. Look at this list:

  • Sam Hornish Jr. - IndyCar Champ

  • AJ Allmendinger - CART/ChampCar winner

  • Marcos Ambrose - V8 Super Car Champ

  • Dario Franchitti - IndyCar Champ

  • Jacques Villeneuve - F1 Champ

  • Max Papis - Rolex 24 winner

  • Patrick Carpentier - CART winner

  • Danica Patrick - Go Daddy Girl

Juan Pablo Montoya 2007 Rookie of the Year
and former open-wheel racer

With the exception of Allmendinger, Montoya, and Ambrose, all of these drivers have either left - Franchitti, Villeneuve, and Carpentier - or have gone to the lower NASCAR series' to work their way back up to Cup - Hornish and Papis. These drivers were just handed rides, and their lack of experience caught up to them.

Speaking of inexperience, many of the rookies who aren't open-wheel stars are just being thrown into a Cup ride. And the spokesperson for that is 2009 ROTY Joey Logano.

Dubbed the next superstar by Mark Martin at age 15, Logano raced in ARCA and the K&N Pro series until he turned 18, when Joe Gibbs put him in a Nationwide car. Then Tony Stewart announed he was leaving JGR. Gibbs was forced to put Logano into the iconic #20 Home Depot Camry. Despite a win - which was the result of a rainout - Logano hasn't found much success in Cup.

But to be fair, even the experienced drivers haven't found a good ride due to a lack of sponsorship. Investors would much rather have a proven winning driver in their car than some unknown rookie. Look at 5-Hour Energy leaving Steve Wallace for Clint Bowyer. Then again, look at Wallace's driving record in the Nationwide Series.

My point is, the ROTY Award just isn't what it was ten years ago. Maybe, if and when the economy gets better, sponsors will be more willing to invest in a rookie. Until then, the luster for Sprint Cup rookies seems a little less bright - in the near future anyway.  

Fans can follow Paul on twitter @pablao21

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