NASCAR

Patrick, Stenhouse debut full time

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick will vie for rookie title.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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First and foremost, and I say this not to detract from any of our rookie of the year contenders over the last three or four years, but the first-year drivers in recent years have been a non-factor.

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It’s not because of the caliber of the rookies, but let’s face it, they were not with top-notch teams. If you look at Kevin Conway, he was with a struggling race team. Stephen Leicht won Rookie of the Year in 2012, and that was with a start-and-park team. I hate that for Stephen Leicht.

We have not had a true top-notch team with a rookie for several years. So I think to have two drivers that are making their full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup debuts this year with top-notch teams – Danica Patrick with Stewart-Haas Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with Roush Fenway Racing – that immediately elevates the caliber of driver that they are.

Ricky, the back-to-back Nationwide Series champion, will move into the full-time ranks with Roush Fenway. That puts a lot of spotlight on him.

And obviously Danica Patrick, because of who she is, will have a lot of spotlight on her. She finished 10th in the Nationwide standings in 2012, the highest finish for a female driver in any of NASCAR's premier series.

Patrick made 10 starts in the Cup series in 2012, earning a top finish of 17th at Phoenix. Stenhouse made one Cup start in 2011 and four in 2012 and has a top finish of 11th at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

BOOGITY! BOOGITY! BOOGITY!

NASCAR on FOX brings live coverage of the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Do I expect either one of them to go out and win races next year? I don’t. Do I look for them to be competitive? I do. They’re going to have their moments. They’re going to have days where they struggle. They’re going to have days where they are really searching.

But I think it’s neat that we have two rookies with this caliber of ride and this amount of attention because of who they are and the top-notch teams they are driving for.

I see Ricky Stenhouse probably performing best of the two. Just because of his experience in these cars, he will probably excel above Danica’s performance. But I think it will be a nice, spirited battle between the two for the top performances – something we have not had in a number of years in Sprint Cup.

Tagged: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, Stephen Leicht

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