Who You Callin' A Rookie?
I bid you welcome gentle readers, with a hope that each of you enjoyed a lovely Holiday, with many, many reasons to be thankful this year. Secondly, if you’re reading this, my guess is that you survived that post-holiday thing they call “Black Friday.” I’ve never been quite sure who came up with that name or why.
There have been two other days in the last 100 years that were identified by that nomenclature, one, October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed and plunged this country into years of economic depression, and two, November 22, 1963, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. But hey… if that is the sort of identification they seek for the biggest shopping day of any year, then go for it!
I’m a believer! I wouldn’t set foot inside anything that even mildly resembled a mall, shopping center, department store, discount store or other and sundry shops and boutiques on that day. I did visit a couple of grocery stores on Black Friday, and was gleefully amused when passing our local Tractor Supply, to see their parking lot almost full to the brim. Um… I’ll just let that one hang in mid-air, but your comments and quips are welcome.
And what, if anything, has all that to do with racing? Not a single, solitary thing, but in case you hadn’t noticed, there isn’t any racing. F1 completed their season on Sunday, with the race at Abu Dhabi won by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, who also won the two previous races, at Mexico City and Brazil. Still, teammate Lewis Hamilton, who finished second to Rosberg in all three races, had already clinched the title. Gee! Do you suppose they need a “Chase” to bring more excitement to the F1 Series? Nah, according to attendance and purse, I’d say they seem to be doing just fine without gimmicks and game playing.
Getting back to home soil, in NASCAR’s three top series, or the “elite” series as some prefer, each has a new Champion and a new Rookie of the Year as well. The Camping World Truck Series 2015 Champ is Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing), a name I predict we’ll hear for many years to come. Erik was also named the Truck Series Rookie of the Year.
The Xfinity Series has a new Champion and he is Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing), who led the Series points for most of the year. Taking 2015 Rookie of the Year honors is Daniel Suarez. (Joe Gibbs Racing)
Last, but far from least, the Sprint Cup Series 2015 Champion is Kyle Busch… and for those that want to argue and nit-pick, someone that made a living doing something with some sort of ball once said, “Rules iz Rules!” Kyle won, fair and square, so get over it! Taking Rookie of the Year honors for 2015 in the Sprint Cup series is Brett Moffitt.
“Who?” And that, guys and gals, is exactly the point I want to make this week. The Rookie of the Year in the Grand National, Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, Sprint Cup Series (They are all the same Series; just different names) was always treated as a big deal! It gave fans and owners a peek into the future at where the next great racing talent might lie. This year, it was at least one full day, though I believe it was two days after Kyle became the Sprint Cup Series Champ, that Brett’s name was officially announced as Rookie of the Year.
Who comprised the competition for ROTY honors this year? Along with Brett, those eligible for the contest were Matt DiBenedetto, Jeb Burton, Alex Kennedy and Tanner Berryhill. Without meaning anything derogatory, it’s obvious that Brett wasn’t competing with winners, nor was he himself in that category.
Brett’s season started at Atlanta, where he piloted the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to an 8th place finish, driving in place of Brian Vickers, who sadly was forced to return to blood thinners and therefore unable to drive in 2015. That would be Brett’s only top-ten of the 31 races he ran. He then ran at Phoenix and Las Vegas for Bob Jenkins in the Front Row Racing #34 Ford. The next 5 races found him back in the #55 Toyota and the remainder of his starts that year were in the #34 Ford. He finished with the unenviable stats of:
Average start – 33.8
Average finish – 30.5
2 laps led
If we back up just a decade, to 2005, we’ll find our newly crowned Sprint Cup Champion, Kyle Busch, taking ROTY honors for that year, driving the #5 Chevrolet from Hendrick Motor Sports. Contenders for the honor that year, aside from Kyle were Travis Kvapil, Stanton Barrett, Mike Garvey and Eric McClure. Perhaps that’s not stellar competition, but he would have won regardless of the year. Kyle’s stats for 2005 were:
Average start: 18.6
Average finish: 21.0
Top 5: 9
Top 10: 13
362 laps led
Before any of you object, statistics are just that… facts, stated with numbers. It is not my purpose to put down Brett Moffitt. He is doing the best he can with the equipment that Bob Jenkins can afford to run. It’s been that way since they started naming a ROTY, or at least ever since they started keeping records. Some years that honor has been hotly contested, while other years one could have predicted the winner before the first race was run. It does seem to this old-timer that the aura of mystique and/or importance of the title has been either dulled or lost entirely in recent times.
Just for fun, let’s go back and look at the last 25 Rookies of the Year and see who their competition was, year by year. The numbers seen in parentheses following the name are that driver’s number of wins in his rookie season. Many thanks to Jay Adamczyk (Jayski) for compiling all this info so neatly for us.
• 1991 Bobby Hamilton - Ted Musgrave, Stanley Smith, Wally Dallenbach Jr.
• 1992 Jimmy Hensley - Dave Mader III, Andy Belmont
• 1993 Jeff Gordon - Bobby Labonte, Kenny Wallace, P.J. Jones
• 1994 Jeff Burton - Joe Nemechek, Steve Grissom, Loy Allen, John Andretti, Jeremy Mayfield, Mike Wallace, Ward Burton
• 1995 Ricky Craven - Robert Pressley, Randy LaJoie, Steve Kinser, Davy Jones
• 1996 Johnny Benson - Stacy Compton [listed as a candidate for 1 race], Randy MacDonald [3 races]
• 1997 Mike Skinner - David Green, Jeff Green, Robby Gordon
• 1998 Kenny Irwin - Kevin Lepage, Jerry Nadeau, Steve Park
• 1999 Tony Stewart (3) - Elliott Sadler, Buckshot Jones
• 2000 Matt Kenseth (1) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2), Dave Blaney, Scott Pruett, Stacy Compton, Mike Bliss
• 2001 Kevin Harvick (2) - Kurt Busch, Casey Atwood, Jason Leffler, Ron Hornaday Jr, Andy Houston
• 2002 Ryan Newman (1) - Jimmie Johnson (3), Carl Long, Shawna Robinson
• 2003 Jamie McMurray - Greg Biffle (1), Tony Raines, Casey Mears, Jack Sprague, Larry Foyt
• 2004 Kasey Kahne - Brendan Gaughan, Brian Vickers, Scott Wimmer, Scott Riggs, Johnny Sauter
• 2005 Kyle Busch (2) - Travis Kvapil, Stanton Barrett, Mike Garvey, Eric McClure
• 2006 Denny Hamlin (2) - Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., David Stremme, Reed Sorenson, Brent Sherman
• 2007 Juan Pablo Montoya (1) - David Ragan, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, A.J. Allmendinger
• 2008 Regan Smith - Sam Hornish Jr., Michael McDowell, Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti
• 2009 Joey Logano (1) - Scott Speed, Max Papis, Dexter Bean
• 2010 Kevin Conway (0) - Terry Cook
• 2011 Andy Lally (0) - no other drivers ran for the award
• 2012 Stephen Leicht (0) - Josh Wise
• 2013 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (0) - Danica Patrick, Timmy Hill
• 2014 Kyle Larson (0) - Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Parker Kligerman
• 2015 Brett Moffitt (0) - Matt DiBenedetto, Jeb Burton, Alex Kennedy, Tanner Berryhill
That list doesn’t require much comment on my part but it does do a good job of showing the ebb and flow of available rookies, and the difference in talent from year to year, dependent mostly on whom the winning driver drove for. Scattered among the last eight years or so, there are a few drivers listed that I actually had forgotten existed. Even in the year just concluded, were it not for having a propensity for confusing his name with that of the Quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what Tanner Berryhill does for a living.
Let’s face it, in today’s NASCAR, these kids get little to no recognition from any branch of the media unless they drive for one of the multi-team organizations such as Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Childress, etc. No, it’s probably not fair, but how much exposure is the media expected to give to a driver that has an average finish of 30-something?
Before we close today, let’s take a look at possible candidates for Rookie of the Year in 2016. There is no official list yet, and drivers sometimes sign in on this one during the year, so a complete list is impossible at this time. Also, the rules for eligibility for ROTY have become rather murky since NASCAR made drivers elect in which series they would run for points. The cap on Cup starts in a single year used to be 5, and was later extended to 7, but that seems to have changed. Again, what follows is only speculation at this juncture.
#24 – Chase Elliott, driving for Hendrick Motor Sports will certainly be at or near the top of everyone’s list, and I see no reason why Chase would not be a candidate. I’d put him in the “Definite” column.
#21 – Ryan Blaney, driving for the Wood Brothers (With Team Penske affiliation) in a full-time ride this year. Ryan has run selected Cup races over the past couple of years, but this will be his first full-time ride. For now, he is in my “I really hope so” column!
Chris Buescher is our current Xfinity Champion. Chris drives for Jack Roush and Jack says he’s ready for Cup. My guess is, if sponsorship can be found, we’ll see Chris perhaps in the #99 for Roush-Fenway Racing. Let’s put him in the same column as Ryan Blaney.
Ty Dillon “could” move up to Cup, but not without sponsorship, and to my knowledge, there is none at this time. My guess is that Ty does another year in Xfinity, but stranger things have happened, so he’s on my “Perhaps, but I doubt it” list right now.
#32 – Jeffrey Earnhardt – part time only. As much as my heart would love to see another Earnhardt taking any sort of on-track honors, I don’t see Jeffrey making any sort of a big splash with this team. When this little team was run only by Frankie Stoddard, I had high hopes for it, but finances forced a partial sale of my “Little Team that Could”, and it’s been a downhill slide from there. Sorry, but I have to put Jeffrey on my “Doubtful” list.
There will probably be more names added as the time for racing in 2016 draws closer, but it would be hard to imagine any late-comer eclipsing the likes of Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney. Both have immense talent and are a pleasure to watch on track. A race for ROTY between those two would be something to watch with enthusiasm next year, so let’s hope NASCAR overlooks Blaney’s Cup starts, as they were not run for Cup points. Even if that contest does not develop, it will still be fun to watch that level of talent added to the likes of Kyle Larson next year. Ah, Youth! I remember it so well! But don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t want to go back there. I’m having far too much fun as a Golden-ager. J
My little green Gibson Telecaster is telling us that it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. Your scribe recently purchased a couple of new Classic Country albums (fancy that!) and we’ll be hearing a few of the songs from them. These songs all date back to the 1940s, but most are true Classics today, having been recorded by oh so many great Country voices over the years. First up, we have a real Golden Oldie written by Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan way back in 1940 and first recorded by them in 1941. “Because I can”, as someone once said, I’ve chosen to offer for your listening pleasure a slightly newer recording of “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” by Eddy Arnold from somewhere in the mid-40s.
Next up we have one written by Jimmie Davis in 1944. Jimmie recorded a version of it a year later, but the overwhelming first hit went to Tex Ritter when he recorded “There’s a New Moon Over My Shoulder” as the “B” side of “I’m Wasting My Tears On You.” Since I’ve never denied that Tex is one of my all-time favorites, let’s listen to both sides of the old vinyl recording.
Next, let’s listen to Jimmy Wakely doing the original 1949 recording of Floyd Tillman’s “I Love You So Much It Hurts Me.”
Our last song for today was written and recorded by Ted Daffan and his Texans back in 1944, and it’s a great recording of this old classic, but I’ve chosen instead a version of “Born to Lose” recorded a bit later on by Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger, as it’s the one I’ve always loved best.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!