In the three major NASCAR touring series (and most other NASCAR series) it is easy to tell the rookies from the rest of the pack, simply because they carry a bumper wide yellow strip on the back of their car.
Most rookies carry this for a whole season, identifying the first year drivers from Daytona to Homestead. So it would seem that to be a rookie it would take somewhere around the 36 race mark until the yellow stripes can disappear from the back bumper.
However, those yellow stripes can come off a lot sooner. If a driver races in more than seven races in one season, and then comes back, the yellow stripes can disappear.
So should the yellow stripes come off sooner? If the driver qualifies for the first seven races then should the yellow stripes come off before Phoenix’s spring race?
The answer to the two above questions is no, because if the season and the competition for Rookie of the Year was based off a seven race series then there would be the possibility of five or six (if you round up) rookies each year.
But still only seven races seem like a small number for rookies to get used to a 36 race season.
Because while seven races consecutively will get the driver experience on most of the tracks that the series race at, in seven races may not be enough for the yellow stripes to disappear.
It’s not until the 18th race of the season that all the main track types have been raced at.
The first seven races do include a Superspeedway (Daytona) several intermediate tracks (Auto Club, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Texas), and a couple short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville, and Phoenix).
Road courses are a completely different track to race on yet that doesn’t come in but only twice during the Sprint Cup Series.
Up until this year the NASCAR Nationwide Series did have a road course in the first seven races, however now there is no longer a NNS race in Mexico or early in the season. And the Camping World Truck series have crossed all road courses off the schedule.
Of course the example that I have just given is mainly based off if a team were to start the schedule from Daytona. Teams come and go every week so in a course of seven races a team could cover most of the type of race tracks that NASCAR races on.
While most teams that compete for Rookie of the Year do plan to race in every race and do get experience on all types of different race tracks. Sometimes things happen that forces a rookie to race and forfeit their rookie of the year status.
In 2001, after the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona, Kevin Harvick was called up a year early and raced most of the season, and won Rookie of the Year.
While that is an example of a successful RotY season that didn’t start at the beginning. Two more recent examples show that seven races may be to little.
In 2004 Jeff Burton moved from a sponsorship seeking No.99 Roush Ford to the recently vacated No.31 Richard Childress Racing team.
Jack Roush needed a driver, so he called up a driver at that time known for racing in the (then Craftsmen) Camping World Truck Series, Carl Edwards from Columbia Missouri.
Edwards and the No.99 Ford wouldn’t surprise many for the rest of 2004 NASCAR Sprint (then Nextel) Cup Series. Although in his first race at Michigan he finished in 10th.
In 2005 Carl Edwards had a remarkable first full year season. He started off his stellar season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he became the first person at Atlanta to win both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races in one weekend. His Sprint cup win came by edging Jimmie Johnson by two hundredth of a second.
Carl would go on in 2005 to record three more wins at the spring race of Pocono, then winning the second Atlanta race and the Inaugural fall race at Texas.
If Carl had not raced in 11 races in 2004 and had the same 2005 season that he did, then Edwards would have easily been Rookie of the Year, beating out that years winner; Kyle Busch.
Carl Edwards would go on to win the 2005 NASCAR Nationwide (then Busch) Series Rookie of the Year.
Joey Logano is pretty much a lock (at this point) for 2009 Rookie of the Year. However, if the rules were different, then the Rookie of the Year race this year would be really competitive.
Marcos Ambrose, who still dawns the yellow stripes on the back bumper of his car, despite not being a NASCAR sanctioned rookie is currently ahead in season points of Joey Logano.
Ambrose has seven top-tens including four top-fives. The only thing that Logano has over Ambrose is a win.
In 2008 Ambrose ran in 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, his best finish was third at Watkins Glen. Therefore when he returned to run full time in the series in 2009 he was not a rookie because of too many races.
If NASCAR were to reconsider the number of races it takes to be a Rookie then maybe, just maybe, there would be more of a competition for Rookie of the Year.
After all in 2008, the Rookie of the Year award was just about handed on golden platter to Reagan Smith. While more races for a Rookie to be a rookie may not have brought more competition (which at the beginning of the year there was much more competition) to last year’s race.
If the Rookie of the Year standards were higher to 10 or 12 races to be a rookie it would make more sense for the racers and possibly a stronger competition for Rookie of the Year.
So it should take a little longer to to loose the yellow stripes.