This year’s crop of rookie drivers leading the standings for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in all three national series are wearing the yellow stripe proudly and gaining respect and the attention of fans and competitors alike.
Since 1954, NASCAR has awarded top performing first-year drivers the distinction of Rookie of the Year. This season is no different as Sunoco continues to fuel a new generation of young racing talent.
Northport, New York native Andy Lally has leaned on consistency and a season-best 19th-place finish at Talladega to extend his lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings over fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year Contender Brian Keselowski who returns to the track this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after a five-race absence due to emergency gallbladder surgery on March 17. Through eight races, 18-year-old Timmy Hill has established a slight lead in a tight battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year title, but Blake Koch and Ryan Truex only find themselves trailing Hill by 10 points and 12 points respectively.
In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, 19-year-old California native Cole Whitt boasts one Coors 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Darlington Raceway, three top-10 finishes in the season’s first five races and currently holds a 20 point lead in the NCWTS Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings over second-place Miguel Paludo.
Lally, driver of the No. 71 Interstate Moving Services Ford Fusion for TRG Motorsports, currently sits 35th in overall NSCS points standings. A new veteran crew chief in Doug Richert and Ford partnership, plus a season-high finish at Talladega has Lally gaining respect of his competitors according to TRG team owner Kevin Buckler.
“It is our second race with Ford equipment and the first with Doug on the box and Andy did a great job,” said Buckler post-Talladega. “It is tough for a rookie to get the help in drafting from the veterans. You have to earn their respect and I think Andy did some of that today.”
Hill, a former Allison Legacy Series Champion (2009) and driver of the No. 15 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing, is currently 23rd in the overall NASCAR Nationwide points standings.
“It has been a very up and down year for us this year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” said Hill. “We have had some great cars, but have struggled to get the finish that we need. To get a top 15 at Talladega was awesome, and I know we can be in the position each race, but it all has to come together at once. Right now we miss one little thing each time, but we are a young team and the results will show. To be leading the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings is really cool. I had to miss Daytona because I wasn't 18 years old at the time and to have the lead is an honor. We just need to string some good finishes together and hopefully we can continue to be near the front of the standings.”
Whitt, driver of the No. 60 Turn One Racing Red Bull/Fuel Doctor Chevrolet, started his racing career as an elementary school BMX racer, before advancing to midgets and 410 sprinters in 2004. In 2008, Whitt became the youngest USAC champion at the age of 17 catching the eye of Red Bull talent scouts. Whitt finished fourth in points last season in the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings and currently sits fifth in points in the NCWTS standings, a mere 12 points out of first place.
"My first year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been a big learning curve because this is the first time that I've ever driven trucks and they're a lot different than driving cars,” said Whitt. “I think we've done really well though on tracks that I had never even seen before, so that's been a pleasant surprise. All in all, I feel like we've been really stout. We've had some really good runs and if we could just put a whole race together then I think we'd have the chance to contend for wins. I think that's part of being a rookie though – learning how to run well the entire race. It's great that I'm able to lead the Rookie of the Year standings right now and I'm looking forward to trying to hold on to that title throughout the rest of the season."
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award is part of the NASCAR Prize Money and Decal Program, also referred to as the contingency program, which provides teams prize money and weekly awards based on performance in several categories.
Sunoco, which has been the Official Fuel of NASCAR since 2004, is in its first year as the title sponsor of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award across all three NASCAR national series divisions. Sunoco is also the title sponsor of the Rookie of the Year Program in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.