Jul 6, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne before the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Millennium Rookies: Part II

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2004 – Kasey Kenneth Kahne started in open wheel sprint cars in the USAC Series when he was 17 years old. In 2001 he was employed by the legendary sprint car owner, Steve Lewis who had employed Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jason Leffler and Kenny Irwin Jr. Kasey won the USAC Rookie of the Year Award and the Midget championship. Kasey loved the open wheel race cars that he went on to race in the World of Outlaws Series and the Toyota Atlantic Series. Robert Yates gave Kasey a shot in the Nationwide Series but it wasn’t until 2003 that he won his first Nationwide Series race driving for Akins Motorsports.

Kahne went on to the Craftsman Truck Series For two races in 2004 driving a Dodge truck and won both races he entered.  Dodge liked what Kahne did when he drove their trucks to two wins that Ray Evernham gave Kasey a shot in Sprint Cup.

Kahne burst on to the national scene taking over for semi-retired driver and hall of famer Bill Elliott, the most popular driver in his era. His season was most notable for the fact he nearly won several races; he finished second a staggering five times, and usually in dramatic fashion. Witness his second race at Rockingham where he almost beat Matt Kenseth in a dramatic photo finish. When Kasey took the pole the following week at Las Vegas and nearly beat Matt Kenseth again is when the nation noticed there was something special in this kid. Kasey almost became the first rookie to make the Chase, but Dale Earnhardt Jr spun out Kahne late in the race at Rockingham and ended his fatuity.

Kasey did get his first win the following year but you can’t deny his outstanding rookie season, and if Gillett-Evernham didn’t fold, I can bet he would have had better credentials.

 

Achievements:

  • 2004 Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
  • five second place finishes as a rookie
  • 2000 National USAC National Midget Champion
  • 2006, 2008, 2012 Coca Cola 600 winner
  • Career stats, 16 wins, 142 top tens, 26 poles

 

2005 – Kyle Thomas Busch is the younger of the Busch brothers. He started racing in the Legends Series in the 1990s at the age of 13 where he won 65 Legend car races. He moved on to Late Models in 2001 at the bull rings at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jack Roush gave the 16 year old a ride in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2001 for six races, and when they got to California Speedway, he was kicked out because the weekend sponsor for the Cart race was Marlboro cigarettes. The reason being  because Federal law prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from participating in a tobacco-sponsored event.

Roughly a month later, NASCAR changed the age requirement for national competition to 18. Kyle joined Hendrick Motor Sports for a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series, finishing second in his second race at Charlotte in 2003. In 2004, Kyle ran a full schedule in the Nationwide Series, winning five races and coming up just short and finishing second to Martin Truex Jr. for the championship.

He got the nod to race Sprint Cup by Mr. Hendrick at the tender young age of 19, winning two races, including his first win at California Speedway where he was thrown out earlier in his career. Kyle is a genuine wheel man; if there is a race with full fendered cars in it, Kyle would be their and his record on NASCAR three biggest series is a testament to his driving abilities.

 

Achievements:

  • 2005 Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
  • Won two races in his rookie year
  • 2005 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year Award
  • 2009 Nationwide Series Champion
  • 2009 Southern 500(Darlington) winner
  • Career stats, 29 wins, 170 top tens, 15 poles

 

2006 – James Dennis Alan “Denny” Hamlin Jr. began racing at the age of seven in go-karts and by the age of 15, he won the World Karting Association Championship. He went on to Mini-Stocks and in his first race, he won the pole and the race. He took his talents to Late Models in 2002 and in 2003, he dominated, winning 25 races and 30 poles in 36 races. He did a small stint on the ARCA/REMAX Series and finished third at Talladega.

Joe Gibbs signed Denny to a contract in 2005 after what he saw in the Craftsman Truck Series. Denny took over for Mike Bliss, who was let go, in the Nationwide Series. He finished fifth in the points. Denny ran a limited schedule in the Sprint Cup Series in 2005 but proved he was worthy by finishing in the top ten three out of seven races.

He ran the 2006 season as a rookie and became the first rookie to win the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. He became the second rookie to sweep both races at a track, doing it at Pocono.  Jimmie Johnson was the first rookie to sweep at a track, doing so at Dover.

Denny became the first rookie to make the Chase in his rookie year by finishing third in the points. When I think of Denny, I think of him as a stealth driver; he came to Sprint Cup under the radar and quickly showed results.

 

Achievments:

  • 2006 Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
  • Won two races in his rookie year
  • First rookie to make the Chase
  • Career stats, 24 wins, 143 top tens, 18 poles

 

2009 – Joseph Thomas “Joey” Logano started racing in quarter midgets at the age of six in 1996. The following year he won the Eastern Grand National Championship in the Junior stock car division. He was lights out in 1998 and 1999, winning championships in the Junior Honda Division and Late Modified Division. He just kept on winning championships wherever he went from Bandolero’s to Legend cars, where he set the record of 14 straight wins at Atlanta.

This kid had so many championships at such a young age that Joe Gibbs had to have him. He won at Pocono during his rookie season and showed he could compete by putting himself in position for good finishes. It’s still early in Joey’s career, but what we have seen this year of Joey winning races is only a sliver of sliced bread.

 

Achievements:

  • 2009 Rookie of the Year Award – NASCAR
  • 1 win his rookie season
  • 2007 Busch East Series Champion
  • Youngest driver to win in Nationwide Series
  • Youngest driver to win in Sprint Cup Series winner
  • Career stats, 5 wins, 69 top tens, 8 poles

Repeating is integral to dynasty status, because it undeniably manifests preeminence at a given time. Sports are about competition because it alone produces rivalry races, moments, and teams. Indeed, the epic moments say as much. They neatly capture the quality of competition on display at a race. Factor in the quality of opposition faced by these rookies and that statistic becomes mind-blowing. Then we have to factor in the quality of the races and performances within those races, like when Kenseth beat out Kayne for a photo finish. It’s euphoric when these rookies win, leading to lucrative careers, and this is why this crop of rookie drivers are the Dynasty of the Millennium.

Part I still posted, Thanks for stopping in.

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Tags: NASCAR Rookies

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