Despite crashing out of the Indy 500, Jimmie Johnson was voted Rookie of the Year over four rookies who finished on the lead lap. Here’s how we’d rank the seven newcomers.
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year over the other six rookies who competed in this year’s running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, despite the fact that he was the final driver on the lead lap when he wrecked his #48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda with six laps remaining.
This subject of the Rookie of the Year vote has become somewhat of a controversial topic over the last few days, more so than it has in recent years.
Nobody has really paid much attention to the vote since two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who was forced to retire with an engine failure, was honored with the award in 2017 over third place finisher Ed Jones.
Who really deserved this year’s Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award?
7. Callum Ilott, #77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet
Callum Ilott qualified in a respectable 19th place but was never much of a contender on race day. He was the second driver — and first rookie — out of the race, crashing in turn two after completing just 68 of the 200 laps around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Speedway, Indiana.
6. Romain Grosjean, #28 Andretti Autosport Honda
Romain Grosjean was the highest qualifying rookie of the Indy 500, placing his #28 Honda on the outside of the third row in ninth place. But unfortunately, that’s about where the positives ended for him. Following Ilott’s crash, Grosjean was the next driver out of the race, also with a turn two crash.
5. Devlin DeFrancesco, #29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda
With a 20th place finish, the argument can be made that Devlin DeFrancesco overachieved in his first Indy 500 start. He finished as the second highest of the five Andretti Autosport drivers and made up four spots from his starting position, this after drawing tons of criticism for the way he raced in his oval debut at Texas Motor Speedway in March.
4. Jimmie Johnson, #48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
One main argument for Jimmie Johnson being Rookie of the Year is that none of the other drivers truly “separated themselves”. That may be true. But beyond Johnson’s impressive 12th place qualifying effort, he didn’t either.
He could never get it going on race day, despite the fact that four of his teammates had the pace to finish inside the top five, and when he crashed with six laps remaining, he was the 24th and final driver on the lead lap.
Ironically, arguing that Johnson deserved to win it is almost counterproductive, as it only serves to boost the claims of the haters and critics that his Indy 500 attempt was a “publicity stunt”, as untrue as those claims are.
3. Kyle Kirkwood, #14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet
Kyle Kirkwood was the second highest finishing rookie in the race in 17th place after making up 11 positions from his 28th place starting spot. He too was shocked that Johnson won the Rookie of the Year award, noting his pass attempt on David Malukas for 16th on the final lap.
2. Christian Lundgaard, #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Considering how far off the pace Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing were in qualifying, Christian Lundgaard’s Indy 500 effort was impressive to say the least. After starting on inside of the final row in 31st place, he made up 13 positions to finish in 18th.
The only three drivers who made up more than 13 spots? Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Alexander Rossi, three Indy 500 champions who have seven combined Indy 500 wins.
1. David Malukas, #18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports Honda
The highest finishing Indy 500 rookie deserved to win the Rookie of the Year award, and it goes beyond his race day performance.
David Malukas finished in 16th place after qualifying in 13th, giving him the highest start/finish average among all rookies (14.5), and he was fast throughout practice to the point where he was considered a serious, yet under-the-radar, contender for the pole position.
It is worth noting that “media and fan interaction, plus a positive influence on the Indy 500” are also supposedly factored into the Rookie of the Year vote. If that were truly the case, Malukas wins it hands-down.
Does the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year voting process need a revision after the award went to a driver who crashed out of the race over four who didn’t, especially when those four were slated to finish several spots higher than he was anyway?