With longtime sponsor Raybestos unsigned NASCAR does not yet have a sponsor for their Rookie of the Year Award. Raybestos had been the sponsor of the award since many of the sports backbone was in diapers but thus far they are looking more and more likely to not return in 2011.
Winning NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year doesn’t exactly mean you had a great season. Last year it simply meant you were a rookie as Kevin Conway was the only driver at the Sprint Cup level to compete. Prior to Brian Keselowski announcing he was planning to run at the Cup level there were no declared Rookie of the Year contenders for 2011 at NASCAR’s top level.
Keselowski’s intension was likely prompted by one thing. NASCAR’s soon to be declaration that drivers may compete for points in one division may have made Keselowski opt for acquiring points at the Cup level instead of being a start and park at the Nationwide level.
Last season Conway lost his ride at Front Row Motorsports halfway though the season, sat out a week and then showed up at Robby Gordon Motorsports as a part time driver. In 28 starts last season he scored 0 top-10’s, led 1 lap at Indianapolis, and had an average finish of 32.6 and even that number was fluffed a bit due to the start and park tactics of some cars as he often had to rely on being in the top-35 in owner points to make the field. His average qualifying spot was 40.2 and Conway’s best finish of 14th at Daytona in July was one of just three times he finished higher then 30th all season. You can’t blame Conway for running the races and you can’t get mad at the rules because someone had to win the award anyway.
While Conway may have fell into the award by making the field on most weeks, imagine the joke that will be told should Keselowski win the award by attempting the start and park.
It’s unclear how NASCAR’s new rule about driving for one championship will effect the Rookie candidacy of guys like Trevor Bayne. Should there be no other full time Rookie’s at the Sprint level, Bayne could actually acquire enough points to win the award even if he runs a limited schedule. Will NASCAR see running for Rookie of the Year different then running for a championship or will they decide that if you fail to run for points in a division you cannot run for awards such as this one?
The Rookie of the Year award has always been a crap shoot but it’s turning into a joke. Some rookie classes are far stronger then others, while winning the award hardly means you are the best of the group. Last year Conway defeated Landon Cassill and Terry Cook. The year before Joey Logano won the award beating out Scott Speed, Max Papis and Brad Keselowski who ran just enough races to disqualify himself from contention in 2010.