Grading The Rookies

Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier

Professor Pete Pistone gives his early grades to this year's rookie class and some may need to do extra-credit work. (Photo: Getty Images)


Some drivers in this year’s Sprint Cup Series freshman class are early contenders for valedictorian. Others are hoping the professor grades on a curve.

One of the biggest crops of rookie drivers in recent history started the year in pursuit of Rookie-of-the-Year honors. Eight races into the season, the eight newcomers have all experienced ups and downs with some scoring higher than others:

Kyle Larson

Grade: A

There were those who felt Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates were rushing Larson’s development by throwing him into the Sprint Cup Series too soon (that would be my hand waving high in the air). Larson has quieted those concerns with a stellar start. Larson has a pair of top-fives and four top-10 finishes and has helped improved the performance of the No. 42 Chevrolet over previous years.

Austin Dillon

Grade: A

Dillon does have the finishes to rival Larson’s so far. Dillon has been steady and consistent enough to work his way into the top 10 of the series standings. He set the NASCAR world on end by putting the iconic No. 3 on the pole for the Daytona 500 but his run in the race didn’t live up to the qualifying excitement. 

Justin Allgaier

Grade: B-

The HScott Motorsports entry has shown some promise in recent weeks and Allgaier is 27th in the standings. His best finish came at Bristol when he came home 17th. He’s placed in the top 25 in the last three races.

Cole Whitt

Grade: C-

It’s been a struggle for the Swan Racing Team, which grew to a two-car operation in 2014. Whitt is the best of the tandem right now and is 33rd in the Sprint Cup Series standings. An accident in the Daytona 500 started the year on a sour note but there have been a couple of bright spots since, including an 18th-place qualifying effort at Bristol and an 18th-place finish the following week at Auto Club Speedway.

Michael Annett

Grade: D

The Tommy Baldwin Racing driver also began his year with a Daytona 500 accident and his Darlington night last week ended the same way. In between those races, Annett has a high water mark of a 19th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, where he also had his best qualifying effort to date at 23rd.

Alex Bowman

Grade: D

Bowman experienced the thrill of making the Daytona 500 when he raced his way through his Budweiser Duel qualifying race. It’s been an uphill battle for the BK Racing organization since then with Bowman’s 23rd-place Daytona finish, his best performance this season.

Parker Kligerman

Grade: D

It’s hard to find a driver who has experienced worse luck than Kligerman. He has been involved in enough crashes and incidents to last a season. His year began with a spectacular Daytona practice accident and, unfortunately, the hits have kept on coming for the other half of the Swan Racing stable. His average finish is 37.3 and it wasn’t until Darlington that he was able to finish as high as 30th since placing 29th at Daytona.

Ryan Truex

Grade D-

The BK Racing driver has only made six starts, failing to qualify for both the Daytona 500 and Texas. He was knocked out of Bristol by an accident and his 30th-place performance at Martinsville has been Truex’s best outing. 

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