The rookies have arrived.
On Sunday, Cole Custer was the first member of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series rookie class to plant his flag in victory lane with his dramatic win at Kentucky Speedway.
It was his second career Cup top-five finish after he claimed the first the weekend before at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But Custer isn’t the only rookie who has made their presence known in recent weeks. On Sunday, Custer was joined in the top 10 by Christopher Bell (seventh) and Tyler Reddick (10th).
It marked the second straight race that at least two rookies finished in the top 10 and third time in the last six races it has happened. At Indianapolis, Reddick placed eighth. At Miami, Reddick finished fourth and Bell placed eighth.
Through 17 races, Reddick and Bell each have five top 10s, Custer has three, including his two top fives, and John Hunter Nemechek has two. Those 15 top 10s better the total rookie top 10s from 2018 (seven) and 2019 (six) combined.
At least one rookie has finished in the top 10 in nine races in 2020. Rookies finished in the top 10 in only five races in both 2018 and 2019.
With his win Sunday, Custer jumped ahead of Reddick, Bell and Nemechek to qualify for the 16-driver playoff field in addition to Wednesday night’s All-Star Race.
“It takes a lot of stress off,” Custer said Sunday. “I mean, it was definitely really stressful. We kind of dug ourselves in a hole a little bit, not from wrecking cars or anything, just from inexperience, not knowing what to expect going into the races, not having a feel for the cars. I think we started to put the whole picture kind of together during the races.
“It’s a matter of I think we’ve at least gotten to the point now where we can take advantage of things when we’re at the front. Definitely takes a lot of stress off going into the rest of the year. We can kind of get the monkey off our back, focus on what’s ahead, not second guess ourselves.”