A Tale of Two Rookies

A Tale of Two Rookies

by February 19, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup season commences this Sunday with the Daytona 500, not only will the quest for a championship begin; but the race to become Rookie of the Year will start as well.

Eight contenders will compete to have the title bestowed upon them, with talents such as Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and Ryan Truex doing battle over 36 races to be crowned Rookie of the Year.

While each entrant is incredibly talented, the focus has gone towards Larson and Dillon, both considered favorites for the award.

Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, at the young age of 23 has built quite the racing résumé. The Welcome, N.C. native is already a Camping World Truck Series and a Nationwide Series champion; winning these titles in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Dillon has shown incredibly maturity throughout his rise through the top three series of NASCAR, winning each series’ Rookie of the Year awards before grabbing the respective championship the following year.

Larson, driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, is a newer face to the top three divisions of NASCAR. However, in the short amount of time he’s been in the top divisions he has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. The 21-year-old from Elk Grove, Calif. is an accomplished sprint car racer and won the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship in his rookie season. In Larson’s two seasons in the top three divisions of NASCAR, he already has a Camping World Truck Series victory to his name and came up just short on several occasions to earning his first Nationwide Series win.

The two drivers come from different backgrounds; Dillon cut his teeth by racing bandolero cars and late models in the Eastern states while Larson gained his experience on the dirt tracks of the West Coast racing by racing midgets and sprint cars.

Dillon was born into racing fame; his grandfather is team-owner Richard Childress and his father is Mike Dillon, a former NASCAR Nationwide Series driver and current general manager of RCR. Larson is a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity program and is the first Japanese-American to win a race in NASCAR’s top three divisions.

While these two have differences in their personal backgrounds, what they share is the drive to win. Both rookies shared an absolutely incredible battle for the race lead at Eldora Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series race there in July; more of the same action between them should be in store for viewers and fans of the sport throughout this year and for many following years.

In my opinion, the last classic rookie battle that the Sprint Cup Series has had was back in 2002 with Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman putting in fantastic performances week-in and week-out to try and edge the other out to earn the Rookie of the Year title. Their respective performances were so great, both were in the Top-6 in points by the end of the season. Newman would eventually win the Rookie of the Year title however Johnson finished higher in the points standings as the rookie points are calculated differently.

I personally have not been this excited about a Rookie of the Year field in years; while I do not predict that Dillon and Larson will both reach the same highs that Johnson and Newman did in their 2002 rivalry, I do expect them to be neck-and-neck throughout the entire 2014 season. Chase berth? Victories? Time will tell, but I would not be surprised to see it happen for both drivers.

The sky is the limit for both Dillon and Larson, and 2014 will be a demonstration on if they have their wings yet.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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