Before the start of the season I did a preview blog on the 2010 rookie class in NASCAR for the Truck, Nationwide and Cup Series. I think my expectations of some of the rookies, mostly the ones in Nationwide, were a bit too high as the 4 drivers who started off the year have only combined for 2 top fives so far. And Justin Lofton has probably been the unluckiest driver among the top 3 series this season.
But there's been some bright spots for the rookies this year, not just in NASCAR but across the motorsports world. So the mid-season update will include a number of other series too.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:
Rookies: Kevin Conway, #34/37/38 Front Row Motorsports,
Terry Cook, #46 Whitney Motorsports
Well this has been a complete disaster from the start, as most expected. Terry Cook qualified for just 3 of the first 10 races of the season and subsequently left the team, leaving Kevin Conway as the 2010 Cup Series ROTY. Conway, the driver who's qualified dead last in the field 8 times, starting dead last (42nd since his team(s) have been top 35) 11 times, and only had 3 lead laps finishes all year. Now he and his sponsor, Extenze, have left FRM so it looks like the ROTY won't even finish the season. Conway might be one of the worst drivers in Cup Series history to be hired by a team to run the full season in Cup, so this year's rookie battle is a complete wash. Next year's will probably be the same too.
NASCAR Nationwide Series:
Rookies: Colin Braun, #16 Roush Fenway Racing
James Buescher, #1 Phoenix Racing
Brian Scott, #11 Braun Racing
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., #6 Roush Fenway Racing
Before the start of the year I thought that Braun, Scott and Stenhouse would have a good shot at finishing top 10 in the standings. Brian Scott's come the closest to that, sitting in the top 10 a couple times this season and is currently leading the ROTY standings for it. He leads all rookies with 5 top tens and his best finish so far is 3rd at Chicagoland after a mid season CC change gave the team a spark.
But it's been a much tougher season for the other 3 rookies; Buescher was let go from the #1 team after 10 races, Colin Braun was taken out of the #16 for a few races after wrecking Stenhouse at Michigan, while Stenhouse was taken out for a race after spinning out during qualifying and missing the show at Nashville. Fortunately, both have stepped up it a lot since their troubles and are now contending for top 10 finishes most race; Braun's probably performed the best out the 3 remaining rookies since his wake-up call.
But Brian Scott's lead (20 points after 22 races over Stenhouse, 29 over Braun) is enough that he should be able to hold on barring amazing results from the two Roush rookies.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Rookies: Austin Dillon, #3 Richard Childress Racing
Justin Lofton, #7 Red Horse Racing
Jennifer Jo Cobb, #10 Jennifer Jo Cobb
Brett Butler, #47 Rick Ware Racing
From the bottom to the top: Jo Cobb and Butler have been back markers all season and are distant afterthoughts in the ROTY battle, Justin Lofton's been unlucky as hell but has been competitive for the most parts and has had a few great runs this season, and Austin Dillon has been the best rookie among the top 3 NASCAR series by a country mile. An 8 race top ten streak, longest by a rookie since Ricky Hendrick in 2001, including his first career win in dominating fashion at Iowa, and currently sitting in 5th in the drivers standings with a good shot at cracking the top 3... It's been a hell of a rookie season for Austin and he's got Truck Series ROTY pretty well locked up and should be a title contender in 2011 as his brother Ty fights for next season's ROTY honors.
IZOD Indycar Series
Rookies: Alex Lloyd, #19 Dale Coyne Racing
Simona de Silvestro, #79 HVM
Takuma Sato, #5 KV Racing Technology
Mario Romancini, #34 Conquest Racing
Bertrand Baguette, #36 Conquest Racing
The Conquest Racing drivers are ride buyers who've been back markers all season, although Romancini was the highest finishing rookie in the Indy 500 (but not Indy 500 ROTY). It's been like Formula 1 for Takuma Sato, he's been quick with his qualifying results but he's left a line of wrecked cars in his wake and only has 1 top ten this year. And I'm actually not sure if Alex Lloyd is technically a rookie, but he only had 3 IRL starts prior to the season including 2 in 2009; he finished 4th in the Indy 500 and would be the highest rookie in the standings if he is. But Simona de Silvestro's been the most impressive rookie of the lot, driving for a single car team that's fielded an ancient 2003 Dallara car for the majority of the season; the 21 year old's had a few top ten runs this year, not getting the result in some of them but has finally started to get them the last few races with 2 top tens in the last 3 races. Most of the teams and drivers have taken notice and given her credit for how well she's run, so she has a really good future ahead of her in the IRL just as long as she can get a better ride down the road.
Rookies: Nico Hulkenberg, AT&T Williams
Vitaly Petrov, Renault F1
Kamui Kobayashi, #23 BMW Sauber
Bruno Senna, #21 HRT F1
Lucas di Grassi, Virgin Racing
Karun Chandhok, KRT F1
Thanks to the new teams in 2010, a number of new faces have found their ways into Formula 1 this season. 3 are driving for established teams while 3 are languishing on the back of the grid for the new teams. It's just been a case of trying to get as much track time as possible for Senna, di Grassi and Chandhok, although Chandhok's already out of the car for financial reasons. It's hard to judge who's really the best of those 3; Lucas and Chandhok own the best finish in 14th and Chandhok's done it twice but any decent result by the new teams has been due to attrition so it's really hard to judge. But Senna's won the qualifying battle between his teammate, Chandhok.
The other 3 is a different matter. Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi are currently tied for the most points scored by a rookie this season with 17, but Petrov is 72 points short of his teammate Robert Kubica's total while Kobayashi has outscored Pedro de la Rosa by 11 points. Then again Kubica's one of the top drivers in the sport while Pedro's been a test driver for most of the past decade, so both have done a decent job. Nico Hulkenberg won the GP2 championship last season, one rung below F1 on the ladder, but has struggled with a middling Williams car and has only scored 10 points compared to his teammate Rubens Barrichello's 30. But Nico's stepped it up of late, scoring points and racing head-to-head with Barrichello more often. All 3 have shown flashes this year but make up 3 of the bottom 5 in terms of laps completed among points scorers.
Rookies: Ben Spies, #11 Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Marco Simoncelli, #58 San Carlo Honda Gresini
Alvaro Bautista, #19 Rizla Suzuki MotoGP
The only reason I'm including Moto GP is because I've become a big Ben Spies fan after he dominated AMA, then won the World Superbike championship as a rookie last season, and is not only the best rookie in Moto GP this year but the likely candidate to replace Valentino Rossi at Yamaha next season. Spies is 7th in the standings with 1 podium finish, while Simoncelli is 11th with a best finish of 6th and Bautista is 16th with a best finish of 5th, his only top 10 finish of the season. Spies should be a decent match for Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha and could get some wins next year as he continues to develop towards being a championship-caliber rider.
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