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John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe approved to run for Xfinity Rookie of the Year

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NASCAR has approved John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe to compete for the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title in 2019, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Nemechek made 18 Xfinity starts in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing while Briscoe made 17 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

Nemechek will compete for GMS Racing in the No. 23 Chevrolet. Briscoe will drive the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Nemechek was announced on Dec. 6 as joining GMS Racing, a team press release said he would compete for Rookie of the Year. But a NASCAR spokesperson said his eligibility had not been decided on at the time.

The Rookie of the Year title was not mentioned in SHR’s Nov. 27 press release about Briscoe going full-time.

The Xfinity rookie field next year will include Nemechek, Briscoe, Noah Gragson in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet and Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet.

Briscoe said in an Q&A on Reddit he was “honestly surprised” he was approved.

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2019 Cup Rookie of the Year battle an unconventional three-man race

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Before Tuesday, the known Cup Series rookie class for 2019 consisted of Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece after both drivers were announced as moving up to Cup on Sept. 28.

On Tuesday, Matt Tifft threw his hat in the ring when he revealed he will compete for Front Row Motorsports next season, driving the No. 36 Ford.

Hemric will drive Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 Chevrolet and Preece will drive JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 Chevrolet.

Together, the three drivers comprise an unconventional rookie class. A class that, compared to recent years, is older, lacks championships and hasn’t visited Victory Lane as often in NASCAR’s national series.

This class will be the first since 2015 to not include a driver who won a title in one of NASCAR’s lower national series. Brett Moffitt won Rookie of the Year that season in a class that included Matt DiBenedetto and Jeb Burton.

Experience is another factor.

Both Tifft and Hemric make their transitions to Cup after two full-time seasons in the Xfinity Series. They were teammates at RCR this season. Tifft drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017.

Preece is the outlier in multiple ways.

The accomplished modified racer from Berlin, Connecticut, will be full-time in Cup after not being full-time in any NASCAR series since 2016. He’s also the only one of the three drivers with a NASCAR win.

After he competed full-time for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2016, Preece made 19 starts over the next two seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. The opportunity was a result of a gamble on himself that led to his first career win in his second start with the team.

Preece’s 2017-18 record

  • Starts: 19
  • Wins: 2
  • Top fives:  11
  • Top 10s: 14
  • Laps Led: 218

 

Age is another unusual aspect. Going against the recent trend of NASCAR’s “Youth Movement,” Preece and Hemric will be 28-years-old when they start their rookie campaigns. Tifft turns 23 in June.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2013 was the last Rookie of the Year who was 25 or older.

Hemric, who calls Kannapolis, North Carolina, home, piloted RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet from 2017-18 in Xfinity and made his first two Cup starts this season

Despite no wins, Hemric powered his way into the Championship 4 each season.

Hemric goes to Cup having earned five runner-up finishes, the most for a Xfinity driver without a win. He also won a series-leading nine stages this season.

Hemric’s 2017-18 Xfinity record

  • Starts: 66
  • Wins: 0
  • Top fives: 23
  • Top 10s: 36
  • Lap led: 510

MORE: Daniel Hemric’s journey to NASCAR aided by Xfinity mechanic

Like Hemric, Tifft will take the green flag in the Daytona 500 without a NASCAR win to his name, but he proved he can run with the leaders.

The native of Hinckley, Ohio, who two years ago underwent brain surgery to remove a low-grade tumor, has made 102 combined NASCAR starts in Xfinity and the Truck Series.

Of Tifft’s nine Xfinity top fives, six came this season. Four have come on road courses including a second-place result this year at Road America.

He made the playoffs in each Xfinity season.

Tifft’s 2017-18 Xfinity record

  • Starts: 66
  • Wins: 0
  • Top fives: 8
  • Top 10s: 32
  • Lap Led: 49

Should Preece, Hemric or Tifft manage to win a race in 2019 and go on to claim the Rookie of the Year title, they’ll be first to do so since Joey Logano in 2009.

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William Byron claims Rookie of Year title after Phoenix top 10

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With a ninth-place finish Sunday at ISM Raceway, William Byron clinched the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year Award.

For Byron, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, it is his fourth consecutive Rookie of the Year Award.

He claimed it in the K&N Pro Series East (2015), Camping World Truck Series (2016) and Xfinity Series (2017).

Byron enters the season finale at Miami with no top fives, four top 10s and nine DNFs.

“We haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying. Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent.”

Byron said he was proud of how he and his team have grown over the course of the season.

“There’s been a lot of things to learn, so just (proud of) how I’ve improved those things or how people have helped me improve those things, and looking forward to next year, what we have there,” Byron said.

Bubba Wallace, who was Byron’s primary competitor for Rookie of the Year, finished 10th Sunday for his third top 10 of the season.

NASCAR revamps Rookie of the Year points system in national series

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NASCAR has changed how it determines the Rookie of the Year in all three national series, it announced Thursday.

The new system, which will debut in a month at Daytona International Speedway, reflects the points system that decides the champion in each series, including the stage format in races.

A race win will earn a rookie candidate 40 points and five playoff points. A second-place finish will is worth 35 points and a third-place finish is 34 points, etc.

A rookie candidate who wins a stage will earn 10 points and one playoff point.

“The focus on our rising stars has never been stronger and simplifying the Sunoco Rookie of the Year system made perfect sense,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations in a press release. “Our fans track closely the progress of our young drivers and matching the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points structure with the championship points will help them follow this prestigious program and award more closely than ever before.”

Erik Jones was Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series last year. William Byron won the honor in the Xfinity Series and Chase Briscoe won it in the Camping World Truck Series.

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Cup rookies in close points battle going into All-Star break

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The 2017 rookie class in the NASCAR Cup Series is noteworthy to say the least.

The drivers competing for Rookie of the Year honors are 2016 Xfinity champion Daniel Suarez, 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and eight-time Xfinity winner Erik Jones, Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon (brother to Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon) an BK Racing’s Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding.

After 11 races in the season and the All-Star weekend looming, the competition between three of the five drivers is narrow.

Following Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway, Suarez, Jones and Dillon are 19th, 20th and 21st in the point standings.

Suarez and Jones, former teammates in the Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing, are tied with 217 points. That is 258 points behind leader Kyle Larson.

Jones is coming off a brutal race where his No. 77 Toyota caused three separate cautions. After spinning on his own twice, the third accident occurred when Dillon tagged Jones’ left-rear quarter panel exiting Turn 4 and sent Jones sliding into the infield. He finished 22nd.

Suarez had a quietly impressive night. He finished seventh for the third time this year. He’s the only rookie with multiple top 10s.

Ty Dillon is 13 points behind the Toyota drivers.

After spinning himself early in the race, Dillon placed 14th at Kansas. Outside a DNF in the Daytona 500, Dillon has finished on the lead lap in all but one race (Martinsville).

Meanwhile, Corey LaJoie is the only other rookie to start all 11 races so far. The son of former Xfinity champion Randy LaJoie, he is 34th in the standings with 77 points. He placed 27th at Kansas and has yet to finish on the lead lap this season.

Gaulding has started in 10 of 11 races. He is 36th in points with 51 points after finishing 34th at Kansas.

All five rookies are outside the top 16 in the standings, meaning they would not be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.

All five drivers will try to qualify for the All-Star Race via the Monster Energy Open or by the fan vote this weekend.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie’s season so far.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Daniel Suarez, No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Points Position: 19th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: Three
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 17.4
Best finish: Seventh (Phoenix, Auto Club, Kansas)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Erik Jones, No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota

Points Position: 20th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: One
Laps Led: Two
Avg. Finish: 21.1
Best finish: Eighth (Phoenix)
DNFs: Three

 

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Ty Dillon, No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet

Points Position: 21st

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: Six
Avg. Finish: 18.8
Best finish: 13th (Talladega)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Corey LaJoie, No. 83 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 34th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 30.5
Best finish: 24th (Daytona 500, Bristol)
DNFs: Two

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Gray Gaulding, No. 23 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 36th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 32.1
Best finish: 20th (Talladega)
DNFs: Three

 

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