Little Earns Rookie of the Year

Jesse Little

Little, a third-generation driver from Sherrills Ford, N.C., edged fellow first-year competitors Kenzie Ruston and Gray Gaulding for the prestigious award that has been handed out each year since 1988. (Photo: Getty Images)

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NASCAR announced today that Jesse Little has earned 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Little, a third-generation driver from Sherrills Ford, N.C., edged fellow first-year competitors Kenzie Ruston and Gray Gaulding for the prestigious award that has been handed out each year since 1988. The 16-year-old is now among the company of Ricky Craven, Andy Santerre, Brad Leighton, Joey Logano, Ryan Truex and Kyle Larson – all K&N Pro Series East champions – who have won the award through the years.

“It’s very surreal, but at the same time I’m accepting of it and humble about,” Little said of joining such a prestigious list of drivers. “I think even this year we beat out a bunch of stout competitors [for the award].

“To look to the future – to be the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year – it gives me great honor to always have that on my résumé.”

Little finished ninth in the overall season standings with four top fives, six top 10s and a best finish of third in June at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va. He compiled 92 Sunoco Rookie of the Year points across the 14-race season, just ahead of Ruston’s total of 89 and Gaulding’s 87.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings are determined by a driver’s finish relative to other rookies in the race. The top-finishing rookie in a race earns 10 points, the second-highest receives nine, and on down the line.

The 2013 season saw a record 48 different drivers earn Sunoco Rookie of the Year points in the K&N Pro Series East, eight of which exhausted their rookie eligibility. Cole Custer, who finished fourth in the rookie points standings with 77, recorded a season-high four Sunoco Rookie of the Race Awards.

Little is the second member of his family to be named the top rookie in NASCAR K&N Pro Series action. His father, Chad Little, earned the rookie award in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 1986 and the overall series title in 1987 before going on to a career that spanned more than a decade at the top levels of NASCAR racing.

In fact, earning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the K&N Pro Series East has gone a long way toward advancing driver’s careers in recent seasons. Starting with Logano in 2007 the last six top rookies in the series have all gone on to compete full-time in NASCAR’s three national series, including 2012 honoree Kyle Larson, who will compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014.

“To race in the same series as my dad and to have a lot of the same people surrounding me that he did is pretty special,” Little said. “To have one of the same titles as him is even more special, and hopefully it’s not the last. Who knows, maybe I can even go on next year and capture the championship.”

Little will be formally recognized for this accomplishment at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Saturday, Dec. 14 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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