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TRACI LESLEY: Calculating the rookie award is too confusing

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Ryan Truex had more top-five and top-10 finishes than the two drivers who finished in front of him in the rookie battle - combined.
Ryan Truex had more top-five and top-10 finishes than the two drivers who finished in front of him in the rookie battle - combined.

By Traci Lesley
Special to

Trying to figure out how the NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year award is calculated is like finishing a Sudoku puzzle when you're a few drinks in. Best 16 finishes? Points for top 10s? A secret vote where the panel is unknown and the vote is before the final race?

Plain and simple, the Rookie of the Year should be chosen based on stats. Who performed the best? Not who finished the highest, because in the modern era of NASCAR, some drivers don't race a full season. Make use of the stats you get every week, and instead of wasting all that paper, use them.

This year's heated Nationwide Series rookie battle is proof why the statistics would have made the difference. Ryan Truex, favored to win the title when the season started, was sidelined midway through after losing his ride. He made his way back into a car temporarily, took over the lead but didn't finish the season so he did not take home the title.

What happened when he came back? In just a handful of races, he took over the lead.

Five drivers started the NNS ROTY battle: Jennifer Jo Cobb, Timmy Hill, Blake Koch, Charles Lewandoski and Truex. Just a few months in, Lewandoski and Cobb were out of contention and Truex followed not long after.

Koch and Hill battled ferociously but Truex spoiled their party. In the end, though, Hill took home the honors.

Had Truex raced in Homestead, we'd most likely be talking about a different person today. With that being said, let's take a look at the stats of the final three:

Driver Points Races Wins Top-Fives Top-10s Laps Led Best Finish Avg. Start Avg. Finish DNF
Timmy Hill 655 33 0 0 0 2 11 29.9 24.4 4
Blake Koch 610 32 0 0 0 0 14 26.6 24.9 4
Ryan Truex 459 17 0 1 5 0 4 12.6 16.4 2

If you look at pure statistics (not points), Truex should have been the winner. Forget the bizarre rules that not even people who have covered this sport for decades can remember. How in the world can you vote for a winner before the final race is even run?

Here's what needs to happen:

First, rookies need to attempt to run all the races. If they can't, they aren't eligible. Why would you want a rookie to represent the sport if they're only running a handful of races? No "Start and Parkers" either. Be all in or don't be in. You think baseball would want a rookie player who was only in a dozen games representing them? No.

Second, no more secret vote. If there is a vote, it should be made public (like the Hall of Fame vote) and it should take place after the final race is over. The legitimacy of the vote is tainted with this "secret vote." It needs to go - NOW!

And finally, there needs to be more than one participant. Now that there isn't a sponsor for the award, it doesn't seem fair to have a "battle" for the Rookie of the Year if there is only one person involved. Kevin Conway, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 2010, got a lot of heat when his competitor, Terry Cook, had to bow out after six races. In 2011, Andy Lally will be awarded the trophy having raced 30 races while his competitor, Brian Keselowski, didn't even get to start.

There are some great success stories with the series' rookies. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon were their series' respective rookie awards and the following year won championships. But that seems to be the exception more so than the rule as economic times get worse.