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2013 Rookie of the Year Preview

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Danica Patrick vs Ricky Stenhouse Jr.:

Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will battle head to head for the 2013 Rookie of the Year honors. Both drivers come to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with high expectations but only one can walk away at the end of the season with rookie honors.

The rookie of the year fights have been pretty lackluster in recent years with few big names coming to Sprint Cup and rarely more than one real contender. This year there are two drivers with a legitimate chance to win rookie honors giving us one more storyline to follow during the 2013 season.

Why This Season Resembles 2000:

One of the last truly great rookie of the year battles came in 2000. Back to back Nationwide Series Champion and media sensation Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up to the Sprint Cup series. This was a classic Ford versus Chevy battle as Matt Kenseth moved into the #17 Ford for car owner Jack Roush. Although both drivers won races in 2000 it was Matt Kenseth who won the rookie crown that season.

This year we again have a back to back Nationwide Series Champion and a media sensation (although this year they are not the same person.) We also have another classic Ford versus Chevy battle including a driver taking over the wheel of the #17 Ford for Jack Roush.

The Drivers:

Danica Patrick has to be one of the best known rookies in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. She has already made a name for herself in the Open Wheel ranks and comes to NASCAR with one of the most recognizable faces in motorsports.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is not a name that many people outside the racing world would recognize. Ricky has been winning races and shooting up through the racing ranks at an impressive speed.

Nationwide Series Records:

Danica has competed in only one full season of Nationwide Series racing. She had two partial seasons in 2010 and 2011 combining for a total of 25 races in those two years with one top five finish to her credit in Las Vegas in 2011 where she finished fourth.

Last year she ran the full schedule for JR Motorsports. She scored a pole in the season opener in Daytona for her only career pole start and scored four top ten finishes on the season with her best effort coming in Texas when she finished eighth.

Ricky Stenhouse ran a partial Nationwide season in 2009 before picking up a full-time ride for the next three seasons. His Nationwide Series record is impressive with a total of eight wins and 62 top ten finishes in his 106 career Nationwide starts. That's roughly 60% of the time that he finished in the top ten.

Last, but certainly not least, along the way he also claimed the 2010 and 2011 Nationwide Series championship trophys.

Sprint Cup Series Records:

Danica Patrick has twice as much Sprint Cup experience as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Danica started ten Sprint Cup races in 2012. Although her best finish was a seventeenth place effort in Phoenix her stats show steady improvement as she started to get a feel for the car. I expect that she will continue to improve next year.

Stenhouse's best Sprint Cup finish to date came in his first career start in 2011. He piloted the Wood Brothers' #21 to an eleventh place finish in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600. Last year he ran four more Sprint Cup events posting a twelfth place finish in Dover.

Why is Danica Still Eligible?:

Some long-time NASCAR fans might wonder why Danica is still eligible to compete for rookie of the year when she started ten Sprint Cup races in 2012. The old rule was that a driver couldn't compete in more than seven Sprint Cup events without giving up his rookie eligibility.

However, when NASCAR changed the rules in 2011 to force drivers to declare which series they were competing for points in they also changed the rookie eligibility rules. Since Danica was racing for points in the Nationwide Series she is still eligible for rookie honors in the Sprint Cup series.

The Teams:

In my opinion this is the real deciding factor in the 2013 rookie of the year battle. The equipment that these two rookies will be sitting in is not equal and will play a large role in determining who the next rookie of the year will be.

Danica Patrick will be bringing her Nationwide team up to Stewart Haas Racing to form a third SHR team. Stewart's team runs Chevrolet chassis with Hendrick engines. This is a solid combination and her teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman have proven that this team is capable of winning.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be moving into the Roush Fenway Racing #17 that Matt Kenseth used to win rookie of the year in 2000, a championship in 2003 and the 2012 Daytona 500. Jack Roush believes that Stenhouse could be the next big thing and will be giving him equipment capable of winning races.

Who Will Win it All:

I believe that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is moving into the better equipment and will have the better, more experienced, team supporting him. That will make him the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year.
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