Five races into the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney have risen to the top of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings leaving the rest of the contenders to play a game of “catch me if you can.”
Elliott is the current leader, by way of a tie-breaker, having three top-10 finishes, eighth at Atlanta and Phoenix and a sixth-place finish this past weekend at Fontana. Blaney has placed in the top 10 twice, scoring sixth at Las Vegas and 10th at Phoenix.
Although Elliott was the consensus to win Rookie of the Year honors preseason, Blaney has proven to be a tenacious competitor, leading the standings after three of five races.
The season began with Elliott becoming the youngest driver to win the pole in the history of the Daytona 500. The 20-year-old was elated, saying, “This is a very, very cool day.”
His excitement would be short-lived, however, when Elliott lost control of his car only 20 laps into the Sprint Cup race, sliding through the infield grass and sustaining heavy damage to his car. After repairs to his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Elliott was able to resume the race 40 laps down and finished a disappointing 37th.
By contrast, Blaney was the highest finishing rookie at Daytona, finishing in 19th place. He ran in the top 10 for the first 100 laps but handling issues saw him falling further back as the race continued. It wasn’t the result he wanted but it was enough to begin the year as the leading rookie.
“No one could go on the top all day,” Blaney said after climbing out of his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. “There was a while where people could go (on top) but then it’s nonexistent. I don’t know if it’s a lack of motor or what. We got behind and we couldn’t get back up there.”
Blaney was also the highest finishing rookie at Las Vegas while Elliott took the top spot at Atlanta, Phoenix and Fontana.
Since the first race, the trend has continued as the pair take turns occupying the number one position in the rookie standings. Brian Scott (-14), Chris Buescher (-16) and Jeffrey Earnhardt (-37) are third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Scott’s highest finish this year was 12th at Fontana, Buescher’s best was 26th place at Las Vegas while Earnhardt (who has only competed in three of five races) captured his best finish of 33rd at Las Vegas.
Although the season has barely begun, Blaney and Elliott have clearly established themselves as the frontrunners in the rookie competition. After a week off, the action will continue as NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway and the battle resumes.
Follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/angiecampbell_