What a weekend for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series rookie class! It is no surprise that three of the six rookies who competed in the race placed in the Top-10 this past weekend at Kentucky Speedway. This class has been referred to by many as NASCAR’s best rookie class in a long time. I am proud to say that each of the three who placed in the Top-10 were past race winners at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The trio was led by Stewart-Haas Racing’s no. 41 driver Cole Custer, who earned his first Cup career win at the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. In the process, Custer became the first rookie to win since Chris Buescher in 2016 (Pocono Raceway). And he did it in dramatic fashion. Imagine this, it’s the final lap with four-wide and you’re on the outside. You’re able to push past two previous NASCAR Cup Series champions in claiming the checkered flag. In addition to Custer’s nail-biting win, fellow rookies Christopher Bell (7th) and Tyler Reddick (10th) also finished in the Top-10.
For Custer, his win marked the first time that a non-Cup Series champion won a Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. Making the feat even more impressive is he did all of this without the benefit of any qualifying or practice. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me as he has always been an amazing driver with tremendous success and pedigree. Custer’s father, Joe, is the president of Stewart-Haas Racing and chief operating officer of the Haas F1 Team. In addition to his victory having historical significance, Custer also locked himself in for the 16-driver playoffs, which start at Darlington Raceway in September.
The rookie class has made their presence felt through 17 races this season. As I have stated earlier, this very well may be the best rookie class NASCAR has seen. Reddick, Custer, and Bell all appeared in the Xfinity Series Championship Four in 2018 and 2019 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It goes without saying the three dominated the Xfinity Series over the last few years. Bell emerged victorious in 16 races over his three years competing in the Xfinity Series (2017-19). In 2018, Custer took home the win for seven races, including the 2017 Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Reddick topped both of them, having won Xfinity Series back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019. During that time he accumulated nine wins.
All three have parlayed their success into a strong start in their Cup Series careers. Bell, Custer, and Reddick have appeared in the Top-10 a total of 13 times, including five apiece by both Bell and Reddick. At this early stage of their careers, it is clear that they’re destined for bigger and better things as their Cup careers progress.
Since 1974, there were only 20 Rookie winners in the NASCAR Cup Series prior to Custer’s win at Kentucky Speedway. Judging from the company he keeps, Custer is well on his way to many more great things as he looks to follow in the footsteps of the other 20. Most notably, the list consists of past Cup Series champions such as Tony Stewart (1999), Matt Kenseth (2000), Kevin Harvick (2001), Jimmie Johnson (2002), Kyle Busch (2005), Joey Logano (2009) and Brad Keselowski (2009), all of who also won races in their respective rookie seasons (rookie years in parentheses). Who knows, with 19 races remaining in the season, there are five other rookie drivers who have potential to make this list as well before the 2020 season concludes. There is plenty of time for the others to make their mark, and many of them are not holding back. And if they are able to do it before regular season ends at Daytona International Speedway in August, they too will clinch a spot in the playoffs.
With every sport, being a rookie can be difficult. It is a major adjustment from playing in the minor leagues or college and going straight to the pros. Especially with everything going on, it is exceptionally challenging. What makes being a rookie in NASCAR more demanding than most sports this year is the fact that there is no qualifying or practice, which typically creates an even playing ground for all of the drivers. With the success the rookies have achieved this year, there is no doubt that they are adjusting quickly and comfortably.
A big congratulations to Custer and the rest of the rookie class, which also includes Quin Houff, John Hunter Nemechek, and Brennan Poole, as they have made their debuts in a fashionable manner!
I am excited for the rest of the year’s competition as we gear up for the playoffs and eventually the championship. It has, and will continue to be, an exciting and interesting year as racing continues.
Good luck to all the drivers in each series as they race your way to the championship!
2020 NASCAR All Star Race:
This past Wednesday, the NASCAR All Star Race, a non-points Cup Series race to win $1 million, took place for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway. For the last 32 years, Charlotte Motor Speedway has hosted the race.
In fact, Bristol Motor Speedway is only the third location since the start of the race, with Atlanta Motor Speedway (1986) being the other.
A new paint scheme for all cars was introduced, as well as a new race concept, the Choose Rule.
Traditionally, during a restart the lead car would choose the inside or outside lane and all other cars would line according to their position.
As an example, if the lead car chose the outside lane, the second position car must line up on the front row in the inside lane.
The Choose Rule now allows each driver to pick the lane they desire.
After the leader chooses a lane during the restart, the second position car has the option to start in the front row or the second row.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out, since points rules have been put in place from experimenting at the annual All-Star Race.
This Week’s Racing Schedule - Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, July 18 - NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series 6:00 pm, FS1, Vankor 250
Saturday, July 18 - NASCAR Xfinity Series My Bariatric Solutions 300
3:00 pm , NBCSN
Sunday, July 19 -
NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 3:00 pm NBCSN
*All races will air on Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90