Rookie stripes come with the turf in your first season in NASCAR’s top series and hard lessons get learned along the way. This year’s rookie class includes Daniel Hemric (No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Ryan Preece (No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet), Matt Tifft (No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford) and Tanner Berryhill (No. 97 Obaika Racing Toyota).
William Byron, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick are among the current full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to earn the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Who will join this list following the 2019 season? NASCAR.com’s RJ Kraft and Chase Wilhelm break down which freshman will earn top honors.
KRAFT: Daniel Hemric has yet to win a Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in his NASCAR national series career and I expect that to change in 2019. While there will be growing pains for the rookie — as there are for nearly all rookies (see William Byron’s 2018 season), Hemric’s tendency to run a clean race and avoid trouble will serve him well in the points and, ultimately, the rookie battle. Remember, the rookie scoring system mirrors the point structure for the season-long championship.
The North Carolina native got his feet wet in the sport’s top series last year with two starts and reached the Xfinity Series Championship 4 for the second straight season. While he did not win in the Xfinity ranks (or in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, for that matter), he was a top-five and top-10 machine the past two seasons. (Side note and a fun fact: Jimmie Johnson had just one Xfinity win in his career as a regular in that series before he went on to become a seven-time champion — so a lack of Xfinity wins is not a complete predictor of future success.) With Luke Lambert’s steady hand atop the box, I expect Hemric to maintain the top spot among the rookie contenders for the bulk of the season and hang around in contention for one of the final playoff spots.
WILHELM: Hemric’s a great choice, but I’m getting behind Ryan Preece on this one. After taking an unconventional path from the Whelen Modified Tour ranks, the 28-year-old Connecticut native made the most of his opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series the past two seasons. In his first race driving the No. 20 Toyota at Chicagoland Speedway on July 2017, Preece finished a career-best second behind Kyle Busch. His first victory came shortly afterward, edging out Kyle Benjamin at Iowa Speedway. Another partial schedule in 2018 saw Preece take victory again, winning the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Long story short, the guy is good. Really good. Sometimes it’s hard to gain much momentum when you’re running a partial schedule, but that didn’t pose a problem for Preece, earning seven top five and 10 top-10 finishes in 15 races last season. Preece has earned his ride at JTG Daugherty Racing. A talented driver like him is just what the organization needs to see their No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 up front more often – enough to earn Sunoco Rookie of the Year.