Quick: Can you name the last two Sprint Cup Series Rookies of the Year?
Got it? OK, Time's up.
Did you guess Andy Lally and Kevin Conway? Unless you're a die-hard -- not an Extenze joke -- NASCAR fan, you probably didn't. And that's OK, we're not going to judge you.
But here's a hint, now that we just told you who won the last two Rookie of the Year awards, you can bookmark this post to impress your friends in 2014 and 2015 when you tell them that you can name the Rookie winners from 2010-2012, because it looks like this year's Rookie of the Year will be Timmy Hill.
Hill, who won the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year award in 2011 with Rick Ware Racing, is the only entrant into this year's official Cup Rookie of the Year race, as RWR announced today that it had joined forces with Max Q Motorsports to run the No. 37 car.
Hill made 33 starts in the Nationwide Series last year, with a best finish of 11th, which came at Road America.
There doesn't look like there will be any competition for the award, so all Hill has to do to win is show up, and that will start at Phoenix, as Mike Wallace is attempting the Daytona 500 for the team. The showing up part is relatively easy. The harder part is making the field. Last year, the No. 37 -- formerly a part of Front Row Racing -- made 23 races and started and parked for 10 of its last 11.
But Hill's emergence as the sole participant in the Rookie of the Year sweepstakes is another continuance of a disturbing trend in the Cup Series. Lally (a very accomplished road racer with the most wins in the GT Series) and Conway both ran for small, uncompetitive teams while they were in their rookie seasons and hardly had any competition for the award.
(Given that she's running 10 races this year, Danica Patrick hasn't declared for Rookie of the Year honors nor will she be eligible when she runs a full schedule in 2013.)
Like everything else, it can be largely attributed to the usual economic factors, as the rising costs of sponsorship to cover a Sprint Cup Series team combined with companies looking to dial back spending isn't a positive equation. And given the pattern of partial season sponsorships for accomplished drivers, spending more for a full season of a driver with less experience doesn't make business sense.
Plus, the Sprint Cup Series experienced a boom in young drivers in the past 13 years. Of the top 20 drivers in the 2011 Sprint Cup Series standings, 17 of them made their Cup debut during or after 1999. And of those 17, 15 are still under the age of 40. (That doesn't include Matt Kenseth, who ran a Cup race in 1998 and turns 40 in March.) There are only so many quality seats to go around, and given that so many of the sport's top drivers are at or near the top of their careers, the pattern of thin Rookie of the Year fields may continue for the foreseeable future.