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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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Erik Jones earns second straight NASCAR Rookie of the Year honors

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Erik Jones came up short of his second consecutive NASCAR championship Saturday, but he can take consolation in earning his second straight Rookie of the Year title.

Jones, who won the NASCAR Truck Series championship and Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, was named NASCAR Xfinity Series 2016 Rookie of the Year on Saturday.

Jones now has the potential to earn a third consecutive Rookie of the Year award in 2017, when he moves up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, driving alongside Martin Truex Jr. for Furniture Row Racing.

Jones finished ninth in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, and criticized Cole Whitt for a slow restart that prevented Jones from making one last bid for the win and championship in the final laps.

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William Byron named Truck Series Rookie of the Year after historic season

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When William Byron began his rookie season in the Camping World Truck Series, he was “just hoping for one win.”

It took him four races to get that.

It took 23 races to reach seven wins, a series record for a rookie.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Byron said after winning the season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 and being named the Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

It’s the second season in a row that a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has earned the honor. Erik Jones did so in 2015, but that was in a season where he won just three races.

Byron had his third win by the eighth race of the season. Jones’ third came in race No. 21.

“I started out, I was like, ‘man, this is going to be really hard,'” said Byron. “Backing up what Erik did last year in this truck with this team, I knew I wanted (crew chief Ryan) “Rudy” (Fugle).”

The two first sat down to get to know each other at a Buffalo Wild Wings.

“We knew right away that we wanted to work together, and he started coaching me the first ‑‑ probably the week after that,” Byron said. “I went to the Snowball Derby and he was telling me things, and I just knew right away we had that trust level.”

That trust level got the team to within 12 laps of transferring to the championship race last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Then while leading, the engine on the No. 9 gave out, giving Byron a DNF and ensuring the season’s winningest team wouldn’t be among the final four.

“We were all pretty down for the ride back to the airplane (after Phoenix),” Fugle said.

A team member then showed the crew chief the owner’s championship standings, which Kyle Busch Motorsports still had a shot at.

“We all started saying things that I can’t say here because we were all pretty bummed about what was going on, but we were all pretty happy we had something to go race for,” Fugle said.

Byron, who had never raced anything before four years ago, gave KBM its fifth owners title and its fourth straight.

“It’s kind of scary to be teaching him all the things that I’m teaching him, but I was done about three weeks ago telling him any more,” Busch joked. “I enjoy coaching up some of these younger guys, although I do tell them an awful lot, but it helps them through the Truck Series, and it’s fun to see their success level be as good as it is in our stuff and to carry us on to championships as well as having the opportunity for William to race for a championship this year, Erik last year, Bubba Wallace a couple years ago.”

Shortly after his fifth win of the year, it was announced that Byron had signed with Hendrick Motorsports. In 2017, he will drive for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

But two wins later, Byron isn’t the Truck champion. That honor went to Johnny Sauter, who claimed his first NASCAR title after breaking into the sport in 2001, when Byron was 3 years old.

“It’s really bittersweet,” said Fugle. “The bitter part is this kid is the champion, and he’s not going to get the big trophy. Sauter is out there; congrats to him. He won the way he was supposed to win it, but (Byron) deserves it. This was his shot at it, and he’s going to progress. He’s going to progress all the way to Cup shortly and he deserves everything he gets.”

Brett Moffitt wins Rookie of the Year after unexpected Sprint Cup experience

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Brett Moffitt won an award Sunday night that he had no plans of pursuing 10 months ago.

But due to illness, injuries and other racing oddities, the 23-year-old native of Iowa won the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year award for 2015.

That wasn’t an option when Moffitt began 2015 with only one scheduled race at Atlanta. Moffitt drove and finished eighth in the No. 55 substituting for Brian Vickers who was recovering from heart surgery before a return the following week at Las Vegas.

“We kind of got pressured into it in a way,” Moffitt said after finishing 31st in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It’s a great reason, but having one race on my schedule I didn’t sign up for (Rookie of the Year), so my eighth-place (finish) in Atlanta didn’t count and then my next few races for Michael Waltrip Racing didn’t count towards Rookie of the Year.”

Moffitt thought his Aaron’s firesuit would find a place behind the glass of a shadow box, but he was wearing again three races later at Auto Club Speedway after it was announced Vickers would be out indefinitely due to blood clots. Moffitt would pilot the No. 55 for five races before David Ragan took over.

“Once we reached a point where I knew I was going to do at least seven races and wouldn’t be eligible in 2016 to run for Rookie of the Year, at that point we said, why not sign up for it and hope things work out?”

They did. In between his first two MWR starts, Moffitt drove the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports. When his stint with MWR was up after the spring Richmond race, the No. 34 that had been driven by Chris Buescher in four races (subbing for Ragan) was his.

“That’s really where Bob (team owner Bob Jenkins) and everyone at Front Row Motorsports kind of made this happen,” Moffitt said. “They stuck their neck out on the line and hired a rookie, and it paid off.”

Where things started with just one race, Moffitt concluded 2015 with 31 more Sprint Cup races under his belt, on top of the seven he drove in 2014. Moffitt wouldn’t have believed anyone that told him he would be the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year within the calendar year.

“I’m surrounded by a lot of optimistic people but I’m kind of a realist,” Moffitt said. “So when I was sitting on my couch last December, October … I had no clue what I was going to do. I had raced the (K&N Pro Series) East series for five years and had one Xfinity (Series) start that went well, and I thought that was going to take off to something, and it just didn’t.”

Moffitt went from the couch to winning an award that’s been won by Kyle Larson (2014), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2013) and Joey Logano (2009).

Now Moffitt hopes what he did in a season he wasn’t expecting will help out his future. Sitting in the Homestead media center, he said his “slate is empty” so far for 2016. If he doesn’t find a Cup ride at any point next year, he would join two of the last five ROTY winners –  Andy Lally in 2011 and Stephen Leicht in 2012 – in not competing in the series the year after winning the honor.

Leicht hasn’t competed in any NASCAR series since and Lally has only competed in three Xfinity races. Kevin Conway (2010) ran in three Cup races in 2011 but hasn’t been in any NASCAR race since.

“We’re working hard, but it’s hard to secure the funding to be able to run in any of the top three series,” Moffitt said. “If anything would come forward, I’d be more than willing to work with any series, whether it was Truck, Xfinity or another Cup ride.”

He has no plans yet, but Moffitt knows a thing or two about dealing with the unexpected.