Jul 3, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth sits in his car during practice for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Between 1999 thru 2008, we NASCAR fans were treated to a dynasty unparalleled in the sport of NASCAR or any other sport. It was the inimitable decade of rookie drivers to ever turn left in NASCAR as the new millennium was starting. I have never heard anyone speak about it, or maybe its not thought of? It’s NASCAR history and we might not witness such an overlooked dynasty again.
The coveted Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Award has been presented formally and annually since 1958.
The award is based on the rookies’ 17 best finishes and as follows:
- 10 additional points for winning a race.
- Segment Points – Divided into three segments, the highest finish based on 10 points down to 1.
- The rookie driver that finishes the highest position at season’s end gets an additional 10 bonus points.
The rules have changed over the years, but this is how a Rookie of the Year is crowned. I remember when a rookie would get bonus points for taking the pole, but that changed during the controversial rookie campaign of Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Points can also be taken away for conduct unbecoming of a rookie driver.
The panel is made up of five members, including NASCAR officials and last year’s winning championship team, unless the championship team has a rookie going for the award.
Lets get started:
1999 – Anthony Wayne “Tony” Stewart came into NASCAR with impressive credentials winning the USAC triple crown and IndyCar Championship. He’s the most decorated driver and some say the best NASCAR driver during the 2000s. Racing for 10 years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Tony won three races in his rookie season and three championships up this point. I remember Tony hanging out with Dale Earnhardt trying to learn about the transition of open wheel cars to full fender stock cars. Tony is the only stock car driver to win championships during the Winston Cup era and The Chase format. Tony Stewart and Alan Kulwicki are the only two owner drivers to win a Sprint Cup title. His memorable 2011 championship was one for the ages where he battled Carl Edwards to a tie, only to win on a tie breaker.
- 1999 Rookie of the Year – NASCAR
- Won three Sprint Cup races in his rookie season
- 2002, 2005, 2011 Sprint Cup Series Champion
- 1997 IndyCar Champion
- 1995 USAC Triple Crown Champion
- 1994 USAC National Midget Series Champion
- 2006 IROC(International Race of Champions) Champion
- 2005, 2007 Brickyard winner
- 2009 Sprint All-Star race winner
- 1996 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year
- 2001 Inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame
- Career stats: 48 wins, 296 top tens and 15 poles
2000 – Matthew Roy “Matt” Kenseth cut his racing teeth on the short tracks of Wisconsin like Dick Trickle, a veteran Sprint Cup stock car driver who some consider the best short track racer ever out of Wisconsin. Matt battled Dale Earnhardt Jr. for championships in the Nationwide Series and both went into the Sprint Cup Series in 2000. When Matt reached the big show, he proved he belonged by winning one of NASCAR jewel races, the Coca-Cola 600 in his rookie season. Matt’s first Sprint Cup race was at Dover in 1998 when he substituted for Bill Elliott, whose father passed away. Matt finished sixth. Most say Matt Kenseth is responsible for the evolution of The Chase when he dominated the 2003 season, leading the points for a modern-day record 33 weeks in a row, beating out Dale Earnhardt’s record of 30 weeks. Matt Kenseth beat out Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the 2000 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Award.
- 2000 Rookie of the Year – NASCAR
- Won one race in his rookie season
- 2000 Coca-Cola 600 winner
- 2003 Sprint Cup Champion
- 2009, 2012 Daytona 500 winner
- 2004 IROC Champion
- 2013 Southern 500(Darlington) Winner
- 2004 NASCAR All-Star winner
- Career stats: 31 wins, 260 top tens and 12 poles
2001 – Kevin Michael Harvick started racing when he was in kindergarten, racing go-karts, winning seven national championships and two Grand National championships. He broke into the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour when he was wrestling in high school and was to progress to drive the #2 car in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing in the Sprint Cup Series but that never happened. When we lost Dale Earnhardt on the last lap at Daytona in 2001, it was Kevin Harvick who got the nod to fill the mother of all racing shoes. Kevin responded by winning at Atlanta in his rookie season to the delight of thousands of teary eyed NASCAR fans around the world. Maybe this year Mr Harvick gets that elusive championship after finishing second twice.
- 2001 Rookie of the Year – Sprint Cup
- Won 1 race during his rookie season
- 2000 Nationwide Rookie of the Year Award
- 1995 Featherlite Southwest Series Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
- 1998 Winston West Series Champion – NASCAR
- 2001 Nationwide Series Champion
- 2006 Nationwide Series Champion
- 2002 IROC Champion
- 2007 Daytona 500 winner
- 2003 Brickyard 400 winner
- 2011, 2013 Coca Cola 600 winner
- 2014 Southern 500(Darlington) winner
- 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013 All-Star race winner
- 2001 Nationwide Most Popular Driver Award
- Career stats: 25 Sprint Cup Wins, 217 top tens and 9 poles
2002 – Ryan Joseph Newman began racing Midgets in Indiana in the All-American Midget Series and United Midget Auto Racing Association. Newman was lights out in Midgets with his 100 feature wins and two titles in Midgets putting him in the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame. Newman is a graduate of Purdue University. He was recruited by Penske Racing and started racing the ARCA RE/MAX Series in 2000. Newman won three out of five races that year. Penske gave Newman a limited split schedule between Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series in 2001. Newman was so fearless, Penske let loose the Rocket Man to set sail on one of the most competitive rookie battles of the new millenium I have ever witnessed. Ryan Newman went up against Jimmie Johnson for the 2002 Rookie of the Year award. Newman is a wheel man; he was lightning fast during qualifying that year and broke the record set by Davey Allison by taking six poles with a team that wasn’t a power house like Penske is now. Newman won his first race at New Hampshire, and he won Rookie of the Year honors, beating out Jimmie Johnson who had three wins that year. Newman out scored Johnson with his qualifying points. I honestly feel had Newman had better equipment, he might be a multi champion in Sprint Cup.
- 2002 Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
- Won one race during his rookie season
- 1999 USAC Silver Crown Series Champion
- 2008 Daytona 500 winner
- 2013 Brickyard 400 winner
- 2003 Driver of the Year Award – NASCAR
- Career Stats: 17 wins, 190 top tens, 51 poles
2003 – James Christopher “Jamie” McMurray started racing in the Craftsman Truck Series on a limited schedule. He graduated to the Nationwide Series full-time in 2002 and won two races that year. McMurray got his big break when he substituted for an injured Sprint Cup driver Sterling Marlin in 2002. In his second Sprint Cup race, Jamie upset the field by leading 96 of the last 100 laps at Charlotte to take the victory. Driving for one of the lesser funded teams, Jamie became the youngest driver to ever win a Sprint Cup race in only his second start and first rookie to ever win at a 1.5 track. He is no longer the youngest driver to win in Sprint Cup, Trevor Bayne now owns that record when he won Daytona. Jamie joined Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 the same year. McMurray outlasted Greg Biffle to win the 2003 Rookie of the Year Award by 37 points.
- 2003 Rooke of the Year Award – NASCAR
- Won 1 race as a rookie
- 2010 Brickyard 400 winner
- 2010 Daytona 500 winner
- 2013 All-Star winner
- 2014 All-Star winner
- Career Stats, 7 wins, 113 top tens, 10 poles
To be continued…