2004 Rookie candidates preview

2004 Raybestos Rookie candidates looking to be head of the class. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2004) -- The dawning of the 2004 NASCAR season brings a fresh crop of rookies, each with their eyes on making an impact in NASCAR's "young gun" ...

2004 Raybestos Rookie candidates looking to be head of the class.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2004) -- The dawning of the 2004 NASCAR season brings a fresh crop of rookies, each with their eyes on making an impact in NASCAR's "young gun" movement and, of course, winning the coveted Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

Along with a boost from previous series champions Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota Racing Toyota) and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet), the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be infused by 10 rookies, all with full-time rides.

The NASCAR Busch Series is expected to have at least six rookies and just as many will debut in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

Six of the 10 Raybestos rookies expected to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series have declared their intentions to run for the rookie title. Those first-year drivers include Robert Huffman (No. 12 Innovative Motorsports Toyota), a five-time champion in NASCAR Touring who helped win Toyota's first championship in 2003, and David Reutimann (No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota), driving for three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip.

The list also includes Ken Weaver (No. 08 PhoneCo Chevrolet), Brandon Whitt (No. 38 Cure Autism Now Ford), Shelby Howard (No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota) and Chase Montgomery (No. 8 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge). Whitt earned Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series in 2002 while Montgomery made 15 starts in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2003 and scored his best finish (10th) at Daytona International Speedway last year.

Four other rookies expected to enter include Kelly Sutton (No. 02 Team Copaxone Chevrolet), Tracy Hines (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet), Shane Sieg (No. 07 Racing Finishes/Auto Air Chevrolet) and Steadman Marlin (No. 67 Foreed Ignition Ford).

At least three full-time NASCAR Busch Series teams will field cars for Raybestos Rookie of the Year hopefuls in 2004. Kyle Busch replaces 2003 NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers at the wheel of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports entry, which will be backed by Lowe's Home Improvement this year. Busch proved himself to be a threat to win Saturday's Hershey's Kisses 300 after scoring his third ARCA victory at Daytona on Feb. 7.

Paul Menard (No. 33 Menards Chevrolet), another strong contender, will drive for Andy Petree Racing. Menard made six starts for Petree in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2003, and showed he can win on the high banks with a victory at Talladega in an ARCA race last September 2003.

Donnie Neuenberger (No. 77 Jimmy Means Racing Ford) will also attempt to capture rookie honors while running a full season.

Three other drivers who will compete in part-time schedules include Clint Bowyer (No. 21 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Chevrolet), Kevin Conway (No. 51 Creditel PowerSwipe Dodge) and Billy Parker (No. 66 Duraflame Dodge). Parker will drive for 1989 NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Raybestos Rookie class should be the most competitive group in recent years with five drivers coming directly from the NASCAR Busch Series.

Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet) last year became the youngest series champion in any of NASCAR's top three divisions. Vickers -- at age 20 -- is arguably the preseason favorite for Raybestos Rookie honors.

Kasey Kahne, tabbed to take over the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge for Bill Elliott in the off season, was the only rookie to post a top 10 qualifying speed for Sunday's Daytona 500. Kahne, along with rookie Johnny Sauter (No. 30 AOL Chevrolet), will also be competing full-time in the NASCAR Busch Series. Sauter completes Richard Childress Racing's three-team stable in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet) is looking to build upon his 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR Busch Series while Scott Wimmer (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) will compete for Bill Davis Racing and the same team which won the 2002 Daytona 500.

Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Kodak Dodge) joins the newly-formed Penske-Jasper Racing team after nearly winning the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. Gaughan won six times in 2003 and was leading the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point standings heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway before being caught up in an accident late in the race.

Raybestos Brakes will sponsor the Rookie of the Year Award in all three of NASCAR's national series. Raybestos has been sponsoring the award since 1999.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Bill Elliott , Bobby Hamilton , Darrell Waltrip , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Jack Sprague , Chase Montgomery , Scott Riggs , Shelby Howard , Johnny Sauter , Kelly Sutton , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Brendan Gaughan , Andy Petree , Tracy Hines , Brian Vickers , Steadman Marlin , Paul Menard , Donnie Neuenberger , Ken Weaver , Shane Sieg , Robert Huffman , Kevin Conway , Billy Parker , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Toyota Racing