How have the two NASCAR Cup Series rookies performed?
Now that all three NASCAR national touring series have headed into the playoffs, it’s a good time to take a look at the rookies in each series and how they did this season, especially with just two of them actually in the playoffs.
Unlike traditional classes, which consisted of any driver with less than a certain number of starts in a series, all rookies must now declare for points for their given series while also getting confirmed as rookies by NASCAR. Keeping that in mind, here are the drivers officially listed as rookies in each series.
Chase Briscoe has really improved a lot this season, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface. Stewart-Haas Racing has had a down year, and Briscoe had a particularly rough transition to Cup to start the year. However, he really stepped up on the road courses in the early summer and really started to click off some great runs near the end of the regular season.
One good thing for SHR: Briscoe has just two DNFs due to crashing. One of them came at a crash-filled Nashville Superspeedway, and the other came at Daytona International Speedway. Keeping the car clean and getting more laps of experience is going to come in handy the next time SHR is running at full power.
Anthony Alfredo came into this season with just 32 combined Xfinity and Camping World Truck series starts, and it has largely shown. The lack of on-track time has really hurt the young driver; not having qualifying is tough enough because it’s just hard to break the cycle of starting in the back, running into problems and finishing mid-field at best and starting in the back again the next week. But having a very inexperienced driver trying to learn the ropes with no practice time at the same time? It’s not a great combination.
It’s hard to imagine Alfredo back in Cup full time next year, but drivers like Jeb Burton and Ryan Truex have shown that it’s more than possible for a one-season Cup bust to still have a solid career in the future.
What about the five-rookie Xfinity class?
Ryan Vargas has not been as standout as he was last year in a more limited capacity with JD Motorsports with Gary Keller, but he’s also had a lot more bad luck this season. He’s had some growing pains, but he should make a step forward next season if he’s been listening to veteran teammate Landon Cassill.
Sam Mayer has had a lot of problems in his big step forward into NXS competition with JR Motorsports, but he finally showed some of his 2020 ARCA Menards Series speed last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s hard to judge this season, with the goal always to just focus on learning for next year.
Josh Berry has been the surprise of the NXS season, winning at Martinsville Speedway and competing for wins just about every week he was in a car in April, May and June. Berry going full time next year with JRM makes him an instant championship contender.
Jordan Anderson has struggled quite a bit this season just to get on track, as a rained-out Daytona International Speedway qualifying session locked the new driver-owner out of much of the spring portion of the schedule. Anderson has only started four races this season, instead opting to field his No. 31 Chevrolet with a gaggle of names including Berry, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Sage Karam.
Ty Gibbs broke out almost immediately with his win in just the second race of the year at the Daytona International Speedway road course. It’s been kind of funny watching Gibbs drive extremely aggressively in ARCA, then the next day being Cool Hand Luke in NXS. With it being incredibly likely that Gibbs will be full time next season, he should be a championship favorite in 2022 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
What of the Truck rookies?
Hailie Deegan isn’t quite as big a prospect as she was in 2019, but she has been better in Trucks than she was last year in ARCA. She’s largely kept her nose clean as far as feuding with people this year, and while she wasn’t great to start the year, she has improved as the weeks go by with David Gilliland Racing.
The reality, though, is that she has the following and the backing to get up to Xfinity, so the real question here is if she will be able to learn enough to be a Cup caliber driver some day. Right now, I’d say maybe not, but it’s still early in the game for Deegan.
It’s hard to judge Kris Wright just because of how small of a team he has behind him in Young’s Motorsports, but he’s been able to largely keep up with his two more experienced teammates.
Chandler Smith has been wildly inconsistent at Kyle Busch Motorsports. He’s finished in the top 10 seven times but also outside of the top 20 seven times. The important thing for him was winning last weekend at Bristol, as that makes him one of just two series rookies in all of NASCAR still alive in the playoffs.
Chase Purdy has remained far, far off the pace from his more successful GMS Racing teammates and has actually regressed from his limited starts in 2020 results-wise. His only good race was a sixth-place result at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway last month.
With Ross Chastain long gone and Brett Moffitt leaving mid-season, the new face of Niece Motorsports has become Carson Hocevar. The lanky 18-year-old has outperformed his veteran teammate Truex, and he remains a player in the playoff race.
Who will survive in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas Motor Speedway has historically been notable for having clean green flag racing, and that has largely been the case recently; starting with the spring race in 2019 that had no cautions outside of the two stage breaks, there have been just 10 cautions for wrecks in the past five Cup races at this track.
Ford has always been tough at this track, blue ovals having been driven to 13 wins in the 28 Cup races there, but Chevrolet enters the weekend with two straight wins in Sin City.
This is probably the most important race of the playoffs until Martinsville, as just one of the 12 remaining playoff drivers can win and enter the next two wildcard rounds at Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL breathing easy.
At the start of the playoffs, I had Joey Logano pegged as a surprise first-round elimination due to how bad he finished off the regular season. Now he’s probably the favorite entering this weekend as a former track winner and having three very solid races to start out his playoff run. Kyle Larson could also be an easy pick to sweep the Cup races this year at Vegas after his strong performance last week in winning at Bristol.
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