Welcome back from a busy holiday season!! I hope everyone had a great Christmas and happy New Year!! With January in full swing race fans can finally look towards the 2016 NASCAR season. With the Daytona 500 just over a month away, the anticipation is starting to build. Many changes have come to the sport over the off-season including new drivers, new sponsors, and a new rule package for the Cup Series. These changes will shape the sport this season, and ultimately play a role in the chase for the championship. While the championship battle will be the center piece of the season, another highly regarded award will also be up for grabs in the 2016 season, the Rookie of the Year (ROTY) award.
The 2015 ROTY year battle was very... let's just say, BORING. No offense to the winner Brett Moffitt, but the 2015 ROTY battle lacked big names, high profile teams, and excitement. The good news for racefans is this year will be the complete opposite. This years rookie class is not the best in NASCAR history, but the 2016 competitors will create for an exciting battle all the way through Homestead. In this post I will highlight the four full-time competitors (announced as of 1/15/16) running for this prestigious award, and give my pick as to who I believe win's 2016 Rookie of the Year award.
**** If you would like to learn about how the ROTY award is tallied and calculated the points format is listed here: http://www.jayski.com/news/stats/2015/story/_/page/2015-NASCAR-Sprint-Cup-Sunoco-Rookie-of-the-Year ****
1. Brian Scott: #44 Richard Petty Motorsports
Brian Scott is no stranger to a Cup car, making 17 previous starts for Richard Childress Racing, Scott has one pole at Talladega and an average finish of 28.8. The bulk of Scott's experience comes in the Xfinity Series where he has ran full-time for the last 6 years. Scott has yet to find victory lane in the middle division (Xfinity) but has shown signs of consistency. He has finished in the top-5 in nearly 10% of his starts, and has finished 9th or better in the standings in 5 of his 6 seasons. Coming into the Cup Series the obvious question surrounding Scott is whether or not he has Cup level talent. Setting talent aside, another concern is the team he signed with. With all due respect to Richard Petty Motorsports, this organization needs to find speed. Aric Almirola has been the lead driver, but the #9 team (now #44) has been irrelevant the last two seasons. RPM has the potiential to make a run for the Chase, but changes need to be made. I will keep my eye on Scott througout the season to see what results come about. I predict this team to finish in the mid to late 20's in the standings without make a dent in the ROTY race.
2. Ryan Blaney: #21 Wood Brothers Racing
For returning readers, you all know that I admire the talent of young Ryan Blaney. Blaney has the potential to be a star at the highest level in just a few years. The only setback the North Carolina native may have entering his first full-time season is equipment. Yes, Wood Brothers Racing does run Penske engines and chassis, but we all know that satellite teams don't usually run as well as the parent team. I expect some solid runs from the #21 car this year, but the Wood Bros need to prove their cars can still compete at the highest level. Remember this is their first full-time season in a handful of years, so it will be interesting to see how this team runs over a 36-race season. If I am making a prediction for the performance of this team, I will say the #21 team will finish anywhere from 20-25th in the standings. Blaney has the talent to sneak in a win at Daytona or Talladega, but I need more proof before I put the #21 team in victory lane. Come November I expect this team to have learned a lot over the 10-month season, and see Blaney finishing second in the ROTY battle. Another story line to watch will be whether or not Blaney stays with Wood Brothers Racing in 2017 or leaves for Penske.
3. Chase Elliott: #24 Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports has finally reached the days of the post-Jeff Gordon era. Chase Elliott steps behind the wheel of one of the most iconic cars in NASCAR history starting in 2016. Chase has proven himself in the Xfinity Series the last two years, but now it's time to prove he belongs at the highest level in racing. Luckily the 20-year-old driver will have every tool he needs to be successful. Chase steps into a top ride in the Cup garage with a very talented crew chief in Alan Gustafson. Add to that a Hall of Fame father in Bill Elliott (for advice/knowledge), and an owner (Rick Hendrick) who has nothing but faith in him. My prediction for the #24 team's 2016 season is a good one. I think Chase has a chance to make the Chase in his rookie year! History has shown that teams do NOT have to run great to make the Chase, but with a few solid runs the post-season is very attainable. Now, I am not giving Chase a Chase spot, but I wouldn't be surprised. My prediction is that the #24 team will finish inside the top-20 in points, whether a win comes or not is hard to guess. Lastly, I foresee Chase Elliott becoming the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year.
4. Chris Buescher: #34 Front Row Motorsports
The ROTY battle got much more interesting in early December when news spread that 2015 Xfinity Champion, Chris Buescher was moving to Cup in 2016. While Elliott and Blaney are favorites to win the award, Buescher has to be recognized as a legitimate contender. Buescher will be a new driver to the Front Row Motorsports, but with him comes a new technical alliance with Roush-Fenway Racing. The alliance was announced nearly the same time as Buescher became the driver of the #34 car. Whether or not this alliance changes things for either organization, there is no down side to having better communication and resources on hand. My prediction for the #34 team is that Buescher will run mid-pack most weeks except the restrictor plate races, if he can avoid trouble. This team should land somewhere between 25th-30th in the standings if Buescher takes care of his equipment. The alliance with Roush may help Front Row down the stretch but as of now I see Buescher finishing third in the ROTY battle behind Blaney and Elliott.
Final ROTY Standings: 1. Chase Elliott, 2. Ryan Blaney, 3. Chris Buescher, 4. Brian Scott
Well, thanks for reading!!! This is the first post of 2016, let's make this a great season!!! Hope everyone is ready for Daytona!! Remember to follow me on twitter @nascar_opinion!!!! After you follow, tweet me your 2016 ROTY prediction!!! Have a great rest of your day!