NASCAR’s Cup series rookie class shines in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JULY 30: Harrison Burton, driver of the #21 DEX Imaging Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, drive during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

When the dust settled after a wild Indianapolis Road Course race Sunday Tyler Reddick was celebrating his second career Cup series win.

There were several other drivers who were also smiling.

Three drivers in NASCAR’s 2022 Rookie Class finished in the top five Sunday. They were led by this year’s Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric, who started second and finished there. A tall order considering there were two chaotic overtime finishes that left several drivers out of contention for the win, much less a top five.

“That was nuts.,” Cindric said. “Oh my gosh.  I hope the race fans enjoyed that. Obviously, those green-white-checkereds it’s just caution out the window and everyone has fenders and bumpers to use, I guess. A lot to take in, a lot to handle. I’m glad we survived it all.”

Harrison Burton’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford seemed relativity unscathed. He overcame a spin with Cole Custer on lap 27 and navigated his way through the frenzied final re-start to survive and come home third.

“That’s what it was, really,” Burton said. “I mean, we honestly had a bad execution day to start the race. We tried to stay out for stage points and more people stayed out than we thought and got buried there, and then I made a mistake and got into Custer. I was spun out at one point. I was all over the place. It was a tough day for me and then got some new tires there before the last caution and started picking guys off and just got in a good place for those restarts. That was the big thing was being on the inside for those restarts and kind of plugging the middle and missing the chaos.”

Perhaps no rookie had a bigger smile than Todd Gilliland. He led his first Cup series laps, 4, during a round of green flag stops, and finished sixth in Stage 1.

“It’s just really exciting,” he said of his finish. “This rookie season has been really tough. The Cup Series is hard. I’ve learned that. It’s easy to give up and that’s one thing, too. You have confidence when you come to the Cup Series, but you get beat down quick.

“Even just having a ninth-place qualifying effort and just to run up front the first stage. We stayed out and got stage points and kind of had to come from the back again, but that’s what me and my crew chief was talking about. That’s really our best weekend start to finish by far, so hopefully that’s just something to build on.

“For me, that’s a lot of confidence.”

The top five finishes for the three rookies were the first since 1994 in a Cup race. Ironically on the day, at Pocono, rookies at the time Jeff and Ward Burton joined Joe Nemechek in the top five. Jeff Burton is Harrison’s father, Ward, his uncle.

Sunday however, the only driver on young Harrison’s mind was his rookie rival, and good friend Gilliland. He said he was working hard to keep Gilliand behind him in the final laps.

“I thought we might get some distance on at least the 38,” Burton said. “But wherever he goes I go with him or vice versa. Every race we’re on each other’s bumper, so hopefully we both just start running top five every week and we’ll be running up there together.”

Greg Engle