The best rookie seasons in NASCAR history

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

June 29th, 2020

NASCAR appears to have a strong rookie class in 2020, with Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell each earning a Top 5 finish this year. Neither driver is that far behind a playoff spot either. This got us thinking about the greatest rookie seasons in NASCAR history.

5. Kasey Kahne (2004)

Kasey Kahne made his presence felt on the Cup Series circuit almost immediately with a pair of runner-up finishes over the first three races of 2004. He would amass 11 more Top 5 finishes that year, but missed a playoff spot by just a few points to teammate Jeremy Mayfield. Kahne won four poles in his rookie season and took home Rookie of the Year honors.

4. Davey Allison (1987)

Despite running in just 22 races as a rookie, Davey Allison proved he was going to be a force in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Allison won at Talladega, the ninth start of his 1987 Rookie of the Year campaign, before winning at Dover two starts later. Allison compiled seven additional Top 5 finishes that year and won five poles.

3. Tony Stewart (1999)

Former IndyCar champion Tony Stewart took to Cup Series racing with aplomb as a rookie in 1999.

Stewart finished fourth in the point standings that year thanks mainly to his consistency – he recorded 23 Top 10 finishes. It took him until September to tally his first victory at Richmond, but that was promptly followed by two more trips to Victory Lane at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami (inaugural race). "Smoke" was the obvious choice for 1999 Rookie of the Year honors.

2. Denny Hamlin (2006)

Denny Hamlin is having quite a season in 2020, but he posted one of the best rookie campaigns in recent memory in 2006.

Hamlin swept both races at Pocono, leading 234 laps in the process, and compiled 18 additional Top 10s. When the regular season ended, Hamlin was third in points, making him the first rookie to qualify for the Chase for the Cup. He was a clear-cut choice for Rookie of the Year.

1. James Hylton (1966)

Despite not winning a race in his 1966 Rookie of the Year run, James Hylton was second in the final points standings, the best finish ever for a first-year NASCAR driver.

Hylton posted 20 Top 5 finishes over the 41-race schedule that season. When the dust cleared, he found himself sandwiched between 1966 NASCAR champion David Pearson (first of three titles) and the one-and-only Richard Petty in the final standings.

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