Although the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year race will see such talents as Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric lead a charge that also includes Matt Tifft and Tanner Berryhill, it doesn’t look like it will be much of a race.
At first, it may look like Preece has the upper hand in terms of statistics. Unlike Hemric, Preece has won in the Xfinity Series not once, but twice, both times in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. Stacked against Hemric’s Xfinity record, where he was consistently recording top-fives and top-10s in stellar Richard Childress Racing equipment but didn’t record a win (mirroring his NASCAR Truck Series record where he was a consistent front-runner but never a winner), it looks like Preece may have an edge, and maybe he does when the numbers are taken into consideration: In 15 starts in 2018 he recorded a win, seven top-fives, and 10 top-10s. In 33 starts in the 2018 Xfinity Series Hemric was winless, but he did record four poles, 16 top-fives, and 23 top-10s.
Preece has the upper hand in this case because he was able to get more out of the car in the limited run that he had. It may help a bit that the JGR Toyota program is a dominant force in the Xfinity Series despite the best efforts of the competition. But while Hemric is being promoted in the RCR organization to Cup level in an otherwise quietly consistent midpack entry, Preece is headed for the JTG-Daugherty camp in their No. 47 Camaro.
TThe fact that the Camaro struggled throughout the 2018 season was more of a manufacturer fault than a team fault despite getting four wins (by two drivers – Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 while Chase Elliott won three times in the second half of the season). But the No. 47 Chevrolet does not have a stellar record. With one win (AJ Allmendiner in 2014 at Watkins Glen) in 432 total Cup starts as well as two poles, 15 top-fives, and 50 top-10s among four drivers (Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Bobby Labonte, and Marcos Ambrose), Preece finds himself in an optimistic situation where the team can finally form itself around a true rising star. But often times that can lead to disastrous results, something that the JTG-Daugherty camp is all too familiar with.
Meanwhile, the RCR organization is still trying to re-establish itself as a weekly contender. Streamlining their Cup efforts to focus on Dillon in the No. 3 and Hemric in the No. 8, RCR looks to lighten their excess load in order to put the cars in Victory Lane more frequently, having not won since the 2018 Daytona 500. In his two Cup starts in 2018, Hemric didn’t make much noise, having his best run at the Charlotte Roval where he finished on the lead lap in 23rd after starting 11th. He does have experience, having been to most of the tracks on the schedule at least twice in the past two seasons, so he knows what to expect. Better still is that since he was promoted within the organization the team has a clear understanding of how Hemric performs and how to get the best out of him as a driver, while Preece back at JTG-Daugherty is in the middle of a learning curve with a new team.
In this case, the odds look to be in Hemric’s favor, but that’s not to discredit either of the two rookie front-runners let alone Tifft and Berryhill. Hemric’s stability in the RCR camp only serves to boost his confidence going into 2019. He’s in a familiar territory, and as a result he may very well post some great numbers. Nevermind that he has yet to score a NASCAR Trucks or Xfinity win; Jimmie Johnson still only has one Xfinity win before his rookie Cup season of 2002 and he’s now a seven-time champion. Therefore, Xfinity results (or lack thereof) don’t always translate to Cup performance. But in terms of the 2019 rookie race where Berryhill (driving for the brand-new Obaikia Cup entry) and Tifft (driving for the reincarnated Front Row Motorsports third entry) will both be driving as unheralded rookies for under-funded teams while Preece will be in an adjustment period with his team, Hemric and RCR may be the best bet for top rookie honors come Homestead.