May 15, 2016; Dover, DE, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (21) leads driver Chase Elliott (24) during the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
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The rookies from the 2016 season in NASCAR impressed, with two making the Chase. But how did they fare compared to each other over the course of the season?
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Brian Scott and Jeffrey Earnhardt made up the 2016 rookie class in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The credentials of the drivers headed into the season were pretty solid with three of the five rookies being second-generation NASCAR drivers, two NASCAR Xfinity Championships and a handful of race wins, the 2016 rookie season looked promising.
The rookies didn’t fail to impress. Elliot and Buescher made the Chase, while Blaney contended for race wins as the season progressed. Now it’s time to grade the drivers on their rookie campaign in NASCAR.
Elliott deserves an A for one of the best rookie campaigns we have seen in quite some time. If Elliott would have won a race this season, it would have been an A+. But when comparing Elliott’s rookie season to Jimmie Johnson’s rookie year in 2002 where he won three times, it just doesn’t hold as much value.
Elliott put together a stat line of: 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-ten finishes and 358 laps led. He also made the Chase in his rookie season and made it into the Round of 12. That would be considered a success for many of today’s NASCAR drivers, let alone a rookie.
Let’s also not forget that Elliott was tasked with taking over the driving duties of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, while also trying to live up to the expectations of his father, another NASCAR great, Bill Elliott.
Blaney and Buescher had up and down seasons, with one of the two producing a win. It was the driver many believed would heading into the 2016 season.
Blaney scored two top-five and nine top-ten finishes in his rookie season and led 21 laps. He had impressive performances on the restrictor plate tracks and some of the intermediate-speedways as the season neared the end. However, he didn’t quite live up to the expectations that some had before the season that he would contend with Elliott for rookie of the year honors.
Buescher on the other hand had a rookie campaign that no one saw coming. A berth in the Chase after a surprise win at the rain-shortened race at Pocono was a shock to many. Buescher had a very quiet season leading up to that race, but used the momentum after the victory to put together another top-ten finish to help solidify his spot in the Chase.
Even though Buescher’s berth in the Chase was controversial, his rookie season will go down in the record books as a solid performance.
To be fair, this doesn’t have as much to do with Scott or Earnhardt’s driving ability as it does their lack of good equipment. Overall though, there weren’t many bright spots for these two rookies.
Scott had a season best second place finish in the fall Talladega race, his lone top-five of the season. His best finish before that was 12th at Fontana, five races into the season. Scott’s rookie campaign in the Cup Series proved difficult for the life-long Xfinity Series driver.
Earnhardt on the other hand competed in 22 of the 36 races, 14 less than his fellow rookies. His best finish on the season was 27th in Richmond, which was only the second race where he finished inside the top-30 all season long. The grade could be worse for Earnhardt, but he was never really given a chance in his Go Fas Racing Ford.