One of the subtle changes made to the IRL rulebook this year was this little nugget on determining rookie status:
* IndyCar Series officials, in their discretion, will determine the rookie status of any driver. Drivers who have been rookies in prior seasons may retain rookie status independent of number of races started.At the time it was announced I made the off-handed comment this should be called this the “Marty Roth rule” because my first thought was the rule was developed to ensure Roth will be required to prove his abilities at every track this year, and by that I mean his car and driving ability don’t get in the way of the actual competitors. I mean Roth no slight by this, but anyone with eyes can see his car was more an obstacle to pass than a challenge to race last season.
But now that we have the entry sheet for this week’s testing at Homestead and it appears this rule may relate to Roth in an entirely different way. Although Roth is not listed as a Rookie entrant at Homestead he may gain that classification as the season progresses, and if so he probably stands to win the Bombardier Rookie of the Year title (and accompanying check) by default.
Why? Because there are no rookies on the entry list.
In all fairness, there are reports that PJ Chesson (another rookie/not rookie) will likely have a fulltime ride with Fernandez in 2007 and the Cahill racing duo of Milka Duno and Jeff Mitrisin are still lingering in the news, but those are not done deals with press conferences and scheduled testing. Roth has a leg up because he’s at least entered somewhere, and that leg may be enough to win him an award with just a few starts.
An even sillier possibility is that Roth is unable to compete for most of the races this season and the series Rookie of the Year award ends up in the hands of the most successful novice at Indianapolis. It’s strange to think about it, but a guy like Wade Cunningham could end up with a fistful of awards this year by simply not crashing in a lone appearance at the Brickyard in May. It’s not exactly a financial windfall – the Indy rookie bonus is $25,000 and the series ROY check is $50,000 – but those titles sure look good on a resume.
I don’t want to sound an alarm of any kind here (don’t I do that enough already?) because in the last few years the league has done a great job of keeping the best drivers in the series. Retaining the current drivers means less spots for the up and coming ones, and as a fan I’m down with keeping the proven veterans. But really...no rookies? None at all? That’s just plain weird.