Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rookie Stripe: What is the Stripe?

Austin Dillon's No. 3 with its "Rookie Stripe"
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs  
Before launching the Rookie Stripe column, I had a lengthy conversation by email with Skirts and Scuffs founderKaty, to select a name for our new “NASCAR for beginners” feature. For anyone new to NASCAR or learning about it, like me, the colossal amount of information about the sport can have your head spinning faster than stock cars on an oval track. One lap at a time, fellow amateurs ...

Katy’s suggestion for the column title? Rookie Stripe.

The allegorical connection was lost on for me for a short while, mainly because I had to look up the meaning of "rookie stripe" before I could respond to her idea. Katy won’t find out about that until she reads this article.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the rookie stripe, which is a real thing in NASCAR and not just the name of this column.

What is a Rookie Stripe?

Jeb Burton was a NCWTS rookie in 2013
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs 
Just like the word rookie means new recruit or someone in a first full season, the yellow rookie stripe on the rear bumper in the Sprint Cup, Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series means the driver is a first-year driver in that series. Placed along the back of the driver’s car, the yellow stripe lets other drivers know the driver hasn’t previously raced that track. Most rookies keep the stripe for a full season, from Daytona to Homestead, but there are exceptions.

We hear the phrase “Rookie of the Year” often, and in NASCAR it's the paramount trophy in a driver’s first season. To make things more complicated, a Rookie of the Year contender may have competed in up to seven events in any previous season.

Because the rules for who wears the rookie stripe can be somewhat ambiguous (and are certainly confusing to me), I asked Jay Pennell, digital editor and writer for Fox Sports, for clarification. He offered some of the main rules:

  • If a driver declares he or she is earning points for a series for the first time (in any of the three major NASCAR series) and has no experience, he or she qualifies as a rookie. The yellow stripe will remain on the car for the whole season, and does not come off until the start of the sophomore season. 
  • The rookie stripe is track-specific. This means that more importance is placed on the driver's experience at that track than the season, and the rookie stripe on the car does not always signify a Rookie of the Year contender. A driver will run the rookie stripe at tracks they have not run in certain qualified vehicles. 
  • Some drivers run a limited schedule and will display the rookie stripe on their cars.
  • NASCAR can determine that a driver needs a yellow stripe if he or she is not a rookie candidate, but has not raced at a particular track, or lacks sufficient experience. However, this rarely happens.
  • If drivers don't run more than a set amount of races in a given series, they are still eligible for the Rookie of the Year standings when they compete in their first full season. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a driver cannot run more than 10 races to be eligible for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. In the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup Series, a driver cannot run more than seven races to be eligible. Denny Hamlin is an example in the NSCS, as he ran seven races in 2005 but was considered a rookie in 2006, which was his first full season. He won the Rookie of the Year title in 2006. Each driver gets a one-time exemption to these rules. For example Austin Dillon ran 11 NSCS races in 2013, but was still eligible for ROTY in 2014 because he only ran more than seven races one time before 
Although 2015 will be Trevor Bayne’s first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, he will not qualify for the Rookie of the Year standings because he already has 58 Sprint Cup starts over five years. 

In Jeff Gordon’s 1993 Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) rookie season, he scored a pole, five top-fives and 11 top-10s. In 1999, Tony Stewart won three races as a rookie. Each took home the Rookie of the Year award in his respective season.

As they continue to find their way on to history book pages with increasingly impressive accomplishments, more and more seems to be expected of rookies, but hey... that’s racin'.

Cheers to all the rookies on and off the track ... maybe I'll add a yellow stripe to the back of my car.