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NASCAR welcomes largest rookie class since 1994

On Friday, Feb. 21, only a few hours before the official start of the 2014 NASCAR race season, the sanctioning body announced the lineup of the Contingency Program partners for all three national series for this year, which includes a total of 24 companies. The highlight of the program is the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, with the Coors Light Pole Award also garnering a great deal of attention.

 Austin Dillon’s pole victory in Daytona placed the award in the spotlight earlier this week, as he brings the historic No. 3 car back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

“We are really excited for such an exceptional group of drivers competing for this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year,” said Andrew Kabakoff, Sunoco’s director of marketing. “We are looking forward to following these battles throughout the season.”

For 2014, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award showacases what might be the strongest rookie class across NASCAR’s three national series since the inception of the award. Austin Dillon will attempt to become the first driver to ever win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in each of NASCAR’s national series, having won the award in 2010 (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) and 2012 (NASCAR Nationwide Series), respectively.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself. Just try each and every week to get the best finish we can with that number," stated Dillon. "I know the fans want to see it up front. That's where I want it to be."

The elder Dillon brother will compete against a formidable group of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie contenders that includes Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Ryan Truex and Cole Whitt.

"I think the rookie class this year is something to watch. Been awhile since NASCAR Sprint Cup has had this many rookies and it's gonna be fun racing against them for rookie of the year," stated Swan Racing driver Cole Whitt.

Contenders for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR Nationwide Series will feature a talented group of young drivers including Dakoda Armstrong, Tanner Berryhill, Chad Boat, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Dylan Kwasniewski, Tommy Joe Martins, and Ryan Reed.

"Gaining respect. That's definitely a topic that's been coming up that I've been saying," said Kwasniewski, a champion of both the K&N Pro Series East and West circuits who will race for Turner Scott Motorsports in 2014. "Obviously, me being an 18-year old driver, having sponsors like Rockstar, being from the West Coast, I'm a little bit different. And I don’t want drivers to think I'm this guy who's kind of a punk kid, I guess. I want to be known as a respectful driver who can race everyone clean and hard, and hopefully show people that I have talent and that I can race in this series."

Rounding out the 2014 rookie class in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be up-and-coming drivers Ben Kennedy, Mason Mingus, Tyler Reddick and Tyler Young.

"I definitely think it's a source of motivation moving forward. We've had our ups and downs, more downs than ups, I guess," stated Ben Kennedy. "But you know that's all part of racing and that's all part of the sport. This will definitely motivate all the guys and hopefully get us determined to go out there and win more of these races and eventually run for the championship at the end of the year."

Austin Dillon’s pole victory in Daytona placed the the Coors Light Pole Award in the spotlight earlier this week, as he prepares to bring the historic No. 3 car back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The Coors Light Pole Award is presented to the driver with the fastest time in the last completed qualifying round in each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (Keystone Light Pole Award) session.

“The contingency program is one of the most unique assets in all of sports as it assimilates our partners directly into the competition taking place on the track each race weekend,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR vice president, industry services. “With the addition of two new partners, Flowmaster and Renton Coil Spring, the roster of partners participating in the NASCAR Contingency Program across all three of our national series continues to display growth.”

The NASCAR Contingency Program strives to build strong relationships with high quality, performance driven brands that are leaders in their respective categories, and award money to NASCAR teams via per race and year-end awards. Competitors become eligible for prize money by displaying partner decals on the front fender of their race cars and trucks. In some instances, use of a partner product is also required.

The program includes awards from 3M, American Ethanol, ARP Fasteners, Auto Meter Gauges, COMP Cams, Coors Light, Keystone Light, Duralast Brakes, Edelbrock, Flowmaster, Freescale, Goodyear, Holley Throttle Bodies/Carburetors, JEGS, K&N Filters, Lincoln Welders, MAHLE, Mechanix Wear, Mobil 1, MOOG Steering & Suspension, MSD Ignition, Renton Coil Springs, Sherwin-Williams, Simpson Firesuits, and Sunoco.

Over the next few days, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race on Sunday, including a possible interview with the head of the CJ Mears Gang himself, Casey Mears, as well as other members of the NASCAR garage.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. Tickets for NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race start at $65 and are available online or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

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