We are lucky to have a couple star studded rookies this season in Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson. Both drivers found immense success in the Xfinity Series, and their rivalry and bad blood only intensified their battle for Rookie of the Year this season.
Winning as a rookie is a rarity, only 13 rookies have won since the year 2000. While you normally see growing pains as a rookie, making the jump from the Xfinity or Truck Series to Cup is an extremely difficult one. Today, we want to look at some of the best rookie campaigns we have ever seen.
Kevin Harvick: 2000
While most rookies come into their first season with the knowledge that they will be in a ride for the coming season, that wouldn’t be the case for Kevin Harvick. The closer would begin his rookie season on short notice, for an unbelievably tragic reason, and some of the biggest shoes to fill.
Harvick would take over the RCR entry after the death of Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500 that season. He would drive a newly branded 29 machine with the Goodwrench colors and sponsorship. It wouldn’t take Harvick long to find victory lane, winning in his 3rd career start in an instant classic against Jeff Gordon. He would show the number 3 in his victory lap, one of the more emotional moments in our sports history.
Harvick would go on to win the 2001 Rookie of the year, while also winning that years Xfinity Series championship, driving full time in both series. He would collect 2 wins in 2001, the other coming at Chicagoland, and would finish 9th in the point standings.
Jimmie Johnson: 2002
We all know that 7 time Jimmie Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR History. He would start his career in 2002 at Hendrick Motorsports with a bang as well. He would win his first career race in his 13th start at Auto Club Speedway. Johnson would become the first rookie in NASCAR history to lead the point standings, and the first rookie to sweep races at a track, doing so at Dover that season. Johnson would finish 5th in that years standings with 3 total wins, and 21 top 10 finishes.
Oddly enough, Johnson would lose the Rookie of the Year battle to Ryan Newman, while Newman only won once that season, and finished 6th in the points, Newman would collect 1 more top 10 (22) to win that years Rookie of the Year honor.
Tony Stewart: 1999
Smoke burst onto the Cup series scene, the Indy Car Champion decided he would give stock cars a try. He is widely regarded as having the best rookie season in Cup Series history. Stewart would win 3 times in his rookie campaign, finishing 4th in the Cup Series standings. This would be well enough to earn him the 1999 Rookie of the Year award.
He would collect 12 top 5’s and 21 top 10’s, and his 4th place finish in the standings would be the highest finish in the points for a rookie until our next driver broke that record.
Denny Hamlin: 2006
Denny Hamlin would break Tony Stewart’s 7 year record for highest finish in the points by a rookie in the modern era of NASCAR, finishing 3rd in his first Cup series season.
Hamlin has made quite the career for himself, being named to NASCAR’s 75 greatest drivers list, he would make an immediate name for himself. Winning twice in his rookie season of 2006.
Davey Allison: 1987
Davey Allison, son of legend Bobby Allison would begin his rookie season in 1987 driving for Ranier-Lundy Racing. Despite Allison only completing 22 races, he would win 2 races in his rookie season, as well as 9 top 5 finishes and 5 poles.
Allison made a big splash, with even bigger family expectations, he lived up to the hype of his family name.