Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Throughout the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, there have been many eye-catching headlines to keep track of: 19 different winners, Playoff stage tension, and fantastic racing all through the season. However, what gets lost in the headlines is the 2022 rookie class. This brings us to an important question: How have the rookies for this season fared?
Let’s start off with the most obvious: #2 Team Penske Driver Austin Cindric. He immediately burst onto the scene by winning the famous Daytona 500, becoming only the second rookie to do so, thereby locking in a spot for the Cup Series Playoffs, early on. How has he performed since? Well, he’s had his fair share of ups and downs. Immediately after the Daytona 500, he continued the momentum with his first career pole in Fontana, which rounded out to a 12th place finish. As the season went on, he had a few more great showings: A great drive to third place at the second Atlanta race, nearly securing win number two at Indianapolis and the Daytona summer race, and showing strong pace at nearly every single road course. Watching him drive, one can occasionally wonder if he is a rookie, after all. Austin’s overall stats this year stand at: One win, five top 5’s, eight top 10’s, 78 laps led, four DNFs, and an average finishing position of 15.5. Not setting the world alight by any means, but he has performed very well for a rookie.
Moving on to our next rookie, his season began with a huge surprise: On his roof on the backstretch. Yes, this is in reference to the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Driver, Harrison Burton. As referenced earlier, he began his season with a barrel roll down the backstretch during the Daytona 500. Since then, you can’t really say he’s had a spectacular season either, as it’s been mired with crashes and mechanical issues alike. Although, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Harrison. Some highlights include securing his best qualifying at Gateway with a ninth position start, getting his first top 10 in the Atlanta summer race, and even surviving to a third place finish at Indianapolis. His stats include: One top five finish, two, top 10s, 20 laps led, six DNFs, and an average finishing position of 23.1. In comparison to last year’s driver Matt DiBenedetto, this has been something of a decline in form for the #21 ride.
It is a similar story for the #38 Front Row Racing driver Todd Gilliland. He has had an awfully quiet season, never being in the forefront of the cameras, but he has done a solid job given his lack of experience and the equipment at his disposal. Some highlights of his season include securing a fourth place finish at Indianapolis, leading laps up front at Watkins Glen before a rear axle broke, and being up at the front in the Daytona 500 before the inevitable “big one” took him out. His stats for the season are: One top five, one top 10, nine laps led, four DNFs, and an average finishing position of 23.3. The stats on paper might say otherwise, but Todd has done a solid job given the circumstances of his call-up.
Overall, the performances of the three rookies this season are on completely different ranges of the spectrum of performance. Each one has accomplished a lot this season, and with this being NASCAR’s most competitive season yet, it is definitely promising to see all three of them shine.