The 2021 season has come to a close, and with it ends the rookie seasons for the newcomers to the sport.
All three NASCAR national series saw at least two Rookie of the Year contenders, and in the case of the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, there were four apiece.
With over a dozen rookie contenders across all three series, it’s time to take a dive and see how they performed throughout their inaugural seasons in their respective series.
Chase Briscoe (ROTY)
In what can only be described as a down year for Stewart-Haas Racing, Chase Briscoe nonetheless did about as well as one could have hoped in his Cup rookie season.
Running a full-time schedule in the No. 14, Briscoe recorded three top-10s and 19 top-20 finishes.
Although the finish didn’t show for it, Briscoe had his most impressive race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where he qualified second and led 12 of the first 13 laps. He was running second on the final restart until contact from Denny Hamlin sent him off the track, ending his chances at the win.
Ultimately, Briscoe’s 2021 performance was enough to net him Cup Rookie of the Year honors, joining Erik Jones and William Byron as the only drivers to be named the top rookie in all three NASCAR national series.
For 2022, there is optimism for Briscoe to improve. He managed to put together some solid races with subpar SHR cars, and his prowess on road courses only bodes well for future seasons now that there are six of them on the schedule. If SHR can figure out the Next Gen car in 2022, Briscoe will be able to build on his rookie season in a big way.
Alfredo recorded an average finish 27.5 and had just five top-20 finishes in the 36-race season. However, Alfredo had a strong finish to the year, as he managed to record his first top-10 finish, a 10th, in the rain-shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway in October.
Alfredo has yet to announce his plans for next year. However, given his experience at the Cup level, Alfredo should be able to find his footing in some capacity for next season.
Ty Gibbs (ROTY)
In a full-time ARCA Menards Series season, Gibbs won the championship and 10 races. And when Gibbs wasn’t competing in ARCA, he ran a part-time schedule in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, competing for ROTY honors.
Gibbs surprised many in the NASCAR world at the Daytona International Speedway road course in February, as he outdueled Austin Cindric on the final restart and became the first non-Cup driver to win their Xfinity debut.
The win was a part of a red-hot start to Gibbs’ Xfinity career. He recorded seven top fives and a second win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his first eight starts.
That wasn’t the last of Gibbs, however, as he picked up two more wins at Watkins Glen International and Kansas Speedway for a total of four on the season.
Given the lack of full-time rookies and his stellar performance in the races he entered, Gibbs did enough to win ROTY over the rest of the field despite his part-time schedule.
Though his role has not yet been announced, Gibbs is expected to run a full Xfinity schedule in 2022 for JGR.
Josh Berry was perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2021 season. A late model driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., there was enough sponsorship put together for Berry to run a part-time schedule in Xfinity for JR Motorsports in 2021.
Berry made the most of the opportunity, as he picked up his first win at Martinsville Speedway in the spring, leading a race-high 95 laps. Berry then contended for the win at Darlington Raceway and Dover International Speedway before settling for second in both races.
Berry’s performance got him additional starts at Jordan Anderson Racing, and an injury to Michael Annett allowed Berry to pick up extra races at JRM toward the end of the year. Berry parlayed these races into a near-win at Michigan International Speedway and his second victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after outdueling teammate Justin Allgaier in the final stage of the race.
All in all, Berry recorded two wins, six top fives and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 Xfinity starts during the 2021 season. He’ll be back in JRM’s No. 8 full time next year.
Because Xfinity Series drivers must be at least 18 years old, Sam Mayer had to wait until Pocono Raceway in June to make his Xfinity debut in JRM’s No. 8. From Pocono on, he completed the rest of the season for the team.
Mayer struggled out of the gate, as he had seven finishes of 27th or worse in his first 13 starts. However, when Mayer could make it to the finish, he showed flashes of brilliance. In the 12 races where he took the checkered flag, Mayer finished in the top 10 six times and in the top 15 10 times.
Mayer’s most impressive outings were at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he led 49 laps and finished ninth, and at Martinsville, where he finished fourth after being two laps down early.
Despite the rocky start, Mayer found his footing as the season went on, and at just 18, there is still time for him to mature and gain experience at the Xfinity level. He’ll do just that for JRM in the series full time next year.
At the age of 33, Jade Buford had a relatively late start to his NASCAR career, as he had previously raced in sports cars. But after picking up an eighth-place finish at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in 2020 during a partial schedule for SS-Green Light Racing, Buford was announced to drive the No. 48 full time for Big Machine Racing Team in 2021.
Buford made his season debut at the Daytona road course and competed in the final 32 races. The highlight of Buford’s rookie season was at ninth-place finish at Michigan, his first top 10 on an oval in the Xfinity Series.
Buford also put together strings of consistent finishes, as he finished in the top 20 in 16 of the 32 races he entered.
He’ll keep the status quo in 2022, running again for Big Machine.
Ryan Vargas was picked to race what was to be a full schedule but ended up a majority of the Xfinity schedule in 2021 for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller, splitting his time between the team’s Nos. 4 and 6 cars.
In his 29 starts, Vargas earned six top-20 finishes, with a best finish of 14th at Atlanta in July.
Thus far, Vargas has not announced his 2022 plans.
An owner-driver in the Camping World Truck Series for several seasons, Jordan Anderson and his team, Jordan Anderson Racing, made the jump to the Xfinity Series full time for 2021.
The season got off to a rocky start as the team’s lack of owner’s points left Anderson on the sidelines for the first 10 races of the season. By the time that the team was able to qualify for races, Anderson had stepped aside and allowed other drivers a chance behind the wheel.
By the end of the season, Anderson ultimately ran a truncated six-race schedule, with his best result being a fifth-place finish in the darkness-shortened race at Talladega in October.
In addition to his Talladega showing, Anderson added two additional top-20 finishes at Michigan and Kansas Speedway.
Anderson’s 2022 plans have not been announced as a driver; as an owner, Myatt Snider will pilot his No. 31 in the series.
Chandler Smith (ROTY)
Smith struggled at first, as he had just two top 10s in the first nine races. However, a sixth-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May helped kickstart Smith’s season. He led the most laps in the races at Nashville Superspeedway and Knoxville Raceway, and he scored his first Truck win at Bristol after getting by Sheldon Creed on the final restart.
Smith then capped off his first full-time season by winning the pole and the race at Phoenix Raceway with a dominant long-run truck, cruising to his second win. His performance in the finale was enough for him to win ROTY honors in 2021.
Smith will be back at KBM in 2022, and despite the rocky start, he showed great improvement this year. At 19 years old, he should only get better with more experience under his belt.
After running seven races for Niece Motorsports in 2020, 18-year-old Carson Hocevar was given the keys to a full season in Niece’s No. 42 truck for 2021.
Hocevar didn’t find victory lane in his first full-time season at Niece, but he certainly came close. He picked up top-five finishes in the season opener at Daytona and at Darlington Raceway and found himself chasing John Hunter Nemechek for the win at Charlotte in May before settling for second.
Hocevar was also consistent, recording eight top 10s and 15 top 20s in the 22-race season.
Ultimately, Hocevar performed well enough to earn a spot in the playoffs, and he made it all the way to the Round of 8 before being eliminated in the penultimate race at Martinsville.
Although he lost ROTY to Chandler Smith, Hocevar was consistent, kept his truck clean and showed flashes of brilliance for a team that hasn’t often looked like a contender for the past two seasons.
Hocevar will be back in the No. 42 truck in 2022, and he has a very good chance at picking up his first Truck victory if Niece can build a good team around him.
With full-time support from BamaBuggies.com, Chase Purdy was picked to drive GMS’ No. 23 truck full time in 2021.
However, there were a few bright spots, as Purdy finished a career-best sixth at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in August, and he contended for the win at Talladega before being spun out heading to the white flag. Despite the spin, Purdy made a nice recovery to finish ninth.
Purdy will not return to GMS next year, as he will make the move to Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 truck for 2022. Purdy still has a lot to prove in the Truck Series for next season, but a change of scenery may be just what he needs.
Hailie Deegan worked her way to the Truck Series in 2021, driving the No. 1 full time for David Gilliland Racing.
Like Purdy, Deegan also had her share of struggles, as she had just one top 10 all season, a seventh at Gateway.
That said, she also recorded a total of 10 top-20 finishes during the 2021 season; the room for improvement is certainly there.
Deegan is expected to be back in the DGR No. 1 truck for 2022, and she’ll be looking to improve her performance and gain more experience in her second season.
After racing part time in two of the ARCA Menards Series divisions in 2020, Kris Wright was signed on to drive the full 2021 Truck schedule for Young’s Motorsports’ No. 02 truck, though he ended up stepping out of the truck here and there when he’d compete in the Xfinity Series that weekend instead.
Wright’s season started off on a high note, as he finished 12th in the season opener at Daytona. That would prove to be his best finish of the year, although he earned three more top-20 finishes at Gateway, Las Vegas and Martinsville.
Wright’s time at Young’s Motorsports was short-lived, however, as he will drive Niece’s No. 44 truck in 2022.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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