Thanks to little competition and the aid of the new rules in place that limit drivers' points in multiple series, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Andy Lally will be the 2011 Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the Sprint Cup Series.
Yes, Brian Keselowski is also eligible for the award and he's certainly the feel-good story of Speedweeks after qualifying for the Daytona 500 in Thursday's second duel. But Keselowski fully admits that his opportunity at Daytona was a Hail Mary. The paycheck for starting the Great American Race is nice, but it takes more than purse money from the 500 to run a full Sprint Cup season these days.
Lally, 36, isn't really a true rookie either. He's run eight Sprint Cup races, but still retains his rookie eligibility because he ran seven races in 2009. Had he run eight, he would have been ineligible.
Lally and the No. 71 TRG Motorsports team are planning to run a full season, but their sponsorship is tenuous at best. However, even if TRG has to resort to starting and parking -- as it has in the past -- Lally should be the runaway winner, a la Kevin Conway in 2010.
Trevor Bayne, who is running a partial schedule in the Wood Bros No. 21 is ineligible for the award because he declared on his entry blank at the beginning of the season that he was racing for the Nationwide Series title with Roush Fenway Racing. (The Raybestos ROY standings are tabulated among the best finishes from 18 races, not on season points.) It's unclear if Bayne's future rookie eligibility will be affected under the new format because he's planning to run more than seven races.