The NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award is presented to the first-year driver that has the best season in a NASCAR season. Each of NASCAR's national and regional touring series selects a RotY winner each year.
History of the Award: Grand National/Winston Cup/Nextel Cup/Sprint Cup
The Rookie of the Year award for NASCAR's premier series was first presented to a driver named Blackie Pitt by Houston Lawing, NASCAR'S Public Relations director, in 1954. While it wasn't an official award, it would help set the standard for the top rookie prize.
From the 1958 through the 1973 seasons, NASCAR did not have an official points system to determine the Rookie of the Year. NASCAR's officials merely gathered together to select a winner. Naturally, this policy came under controversy, as officials didn't consider former champions from rival racing series. This system came to an end in 1973 after Lennie Pond was controversially chosen over Darrell Waltrip for the honor; even though Pond scored more points, he had run 23 compared to Waltrip's 19 races. Since 1974, the Rookie of the Year points system described below has been used, even if it meant the winner was not the highest finisher in championship points.
The award is currently sponsored by Sunoco. Drivers competing for the award must display the Sunoco contingency decal.
Rookie of the year candidates earn points for their best seventeen (Sprint Cup), sixteen (Nationwide), or fourteen (Camping World Truck) races of the season. All other points are based on a ten-to-one system.
The highest finishing rookie earns ten points, the second highest finishing rookie earns nine points, etc.
One point is granted to all rookies who enter an event prior to the entry deadline, regardless of finishing position or even if they don't qualify. All rookies with teams that enter past the regular entry deadline ("post entry") do not receive this point.
Bonus points are also awarded to drivers in the following circumstances:
A rookie candidate finishes in the top ten in a race. If that candidate wins, he/she earns ten bonus rookie points. If that candidate finishes second, he/she earns nine bonus rookie points, etc.
"Segment Bonus Points." The season is divided into three segments, the first segment being after the first ten races of the season, the second segment being after the second ten races of the season, and the third segment being the rest of the schedule. The candidate with the most championship points in each segment earns ten bonus rookie points, the candidate with the second-most championship points earns nine, etc. The system is different slightly in the Camping World Truck Series because only has 22 races, compared to the other two series, are run in their season.
The rookie driver who finishes highest in the championship standings at season's end will receive an additional ten bonus rookie points.
There is a five-member panel composed of the preceding year's Series Champion, officials, etc. that meet during the final week of the season. They evaluate that year's candidates on the following criteria:
Conduct with officials
Conduct and awareness on the racetrack
Personal appearance and conduct with the media
The panel may penalize rookies for any conduct that may be detrimental to NASCAR.
Anyone involved with a rookie candidate (such as a teammate or car owner) may not serve on that year's panel and will be replaced by another person in that category. In case of the Series Champion, it is the preceding year's Series Champion. In 2002, 2000 champion Bobby Labonte served a second consecutive term on the Cup rookie panel as NASCAR disqualified 2001 champion Jeff Gordon from the position because of his equity ownership in Jimmie Johnson's #48 car.
Drivers must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible to run for or receive the Rookie of the Year award.
Must have run no more than five (prior to 2001), seven (2001–10), or seven and have been declared to race for driver points in that series (2011–present), races in any previous season.
Drivers who compete in more than five races in a higher NASCAR-sanctioned series are not eligible for the award in a lower series, if they have not declared for the higher series.
If a driver does not start eight races before the end of Race 20 on the schedule, they will immediately become ineligible to earn rookie points for the rest of that season and starting in 2011, remained declared for that series. Drivers may change series declaration in order to avoid this.
A driver may not receive rookie points if he/she starts a race for a team that he/she did not qualify with. However, he/she is still eligible for championship points in that race.
There have been a few cases before the 2011 rule change where aspiring Sprint Cup drivers have sacrificed their future eligibility to be Rookie of the Year candidates by driving part-time schedules including more than seven Cup races. For example, in 2009, Brad Keselowski ended up running 15 races, including a win at Talladega. Two other famous drivers who did the same thing are Carl Edwards (13 Cup races in 2004), and Marcos Ambrose (11 races in 2008).
On the other hand, 2007 Rookie of the Year winner Juan Pablo Montoya was eligible even though he had previously been the 1999 Rookie of the Year in the CART series (which at the time was the top level of open wheel racing.)
The 2009 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year was Johnny Sauter, who ironically was a veteran of both the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series. He had never run more than three truck races in any previous season, and made no 2009 starts at all in either of the two higher-level series, hence he was eligible for the truck series' rookie award. The 2006 Nationwide Series RoTY runner-up John Andretti was a veteran of the Cup Series but had made only one prior Nationwide Series start, making him eligible for the award.
In 1992, Ricky Craven, the Busch Series Rookie of the Year, actually had run seven races when the limit was five in 1991. However, Craven was only credited with two Busch-only starts, as the other five starts were in combination races with the Busch North Series (now the K&N Pro Series East), which he was a full-time regular at the time. The races were registered in the Busch North Series, so he could enter the race in that series and not compromise his eligibility in the "South" series.
Beginning in 2011, drivers that are ineligible for points in one series cannot earn Rookie points in that series. For example, Trevor Bayne ran 18 races in 2011. However, due to him declaring to run for the Nationwide championship, Bayne was also ineligible to declare for ROTY in 2011. Bayne therefore retained the right to declare for Rookie eligibilty at a later date. However, when Bayne finally declared for Sprint Cup points in 2015, a previously little-known provision came into play that places a limit on the cumulative number of races a driver can run without declaring for points before he loses future Rookie eligibility. Bayne was confirmed by NASCAR to have exceeded this limit (although there has yet to be a definite announcement on what this limit actually is) and is therefore ineligible to run for Rookie of the Year in 2015. Danica Patrick ran 10 races in 2012 in Sprint Cup, though she declared she would race for the Nationwide championship, allowing her in 2013 to declare in Sprint Cup, and race as a rookie. This also allows lower-tier drivers to substitute for injured drivers in higher-tier series without risk of losing rookie eligibility.
Below is a list of all winners, and known runner-ups. (Note: some of the drivers listed here are not confirmed as ROTY contenders, and competed in more than the maximum number of races to be eligible for ROTY honors.)
Did not declare for ROTY and ran more than seven races (or 10 in the Truck Series 2013-), but did not run for series points (2011-) and is still eligible for the award.
Did not declare for ROTY, but ran more than five (or seven as of 2001, or ten in the Truck Series 2013-) races (while eligible for series points, 2011-) and are completely ineligible for the award.
Declared for ROTY, but did not make minimum five (or seven as of 2001) races, still eligible
Died during rookie season, received award posthumously
Did not receive an official award
Died during rookie season and was unable to complete the schedule
^ Craven started seven races in 1991 (the limit was five) but was charged with only two starts. The other five starts were in combination races with the Busch North Series, where he raced as a regular. Both 1991 Busch Series wins were in combination races as a North driver.