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It’s NASCAR’s show, so it gets to make the rules. That being said, it’s time to tweak one of the rules that doesn’t much matter. That’s because the list of Rookie of the Year candidates released on Thursday has too many names in the Cup Series and too few – for now, anyway – in the Xfinity Series.

Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson aren’t rookies, regardless of what NASCAR thinks

There were other top-shelf talents in the 2022 Xfinity Series, but Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson understandably attracted disproportionate attention on their way to a combined 15 victories and a one-two finish in the Championship 4. That was on Saturdays. On roughly half of Sundays from February to November, Gibbs and Gragson drove in Cup Series races.

Gragson had deals with Kaulig Racing and Beard Motorsports for 13 appearances, then subbed for Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman in five playoff races. Meanwhile, Gibbs subbed for Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing for 15 races over the second half of the season.

This season, Gragson will be full-time with Legacy Motor Club and Gibbs is driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. In the list released Thursday, NASCAR considers them 2023 rookies; no other Cup Series drivers are on the list.

Again, it’s NASCAR’s league. So they make the rules. Their opinion appears to be that Gibbs and Gragson qualify as rookies since there weren’t competing for the championship.

Chandler Smith is missing from the NASCAR Rookie of the Year list

Chandler Smith waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4, 2022. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
Chandler Smith waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4, 2022. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Twitter lit up with questions about Xfinity Series rookies almost as soon as NASCAR released the list because there were only two candidates: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff of Jordan Anderson Racing.

Retzlaff, 19, and Smith, 18, each made nine starts in the 2022 Xfinity Series. Again, NASCAR appears to have decided they’re rookies since they didn’t compete for the 2022 championship.

Missing from the list, however, is Chandler Smith. After finishing third in the truck series for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season, he has moved to the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing, which has also committed to letting him compete in a handful of Cup series races.

His absence from the list of Xfinity Series rookies is an obvious issue, given Smith’s limited Xfinity Series experience of three starts for Sam Hunt Racing.

There’s a possible explanation for the Xfinity Series rookies list

Rather than an oversight, Chandler Smith may be missing from the NASCAR Rookie of the Year list based upon a rule while leaving the door open for inclusion later this year.

It’s possible he hasn’t declared which NASCAR series championship he’ll be pursuing even if it’s obvious to the rest of the world: Smith left Kyle Busch Motorsports and hasn’t signed with another truck series team, and Kaulig Racing says it doesn’t intend to use the 20-year-old in more than a handful of Cup Series races.

Thus, what we have is a paperwork issue. Once Smith declares he’s competing for the Xfinity Series championship, NASCAR will add him to the list of Rookie of the Year candidates. Given his Craftsman Truck Series credentials and the fact Kaulig Racing fields competitive Xfinity Series cars, he should be in the thick of the hunt for the postseason honor.

The solution for NASCAR should be painfully obvious. There was no need to rush the list of rookies out the door a month before the season. It could just as easily have made the announcement during Speedweeks, when all three series will be at Daytona. By then, everyone should have declared 2023 championship plans.

Doing it the way NASCAR did it on Thursday unnecessarily created a story where there wasn’t one.

Of course, that’s only NASCAR’s second-biggest rookie problem. With 33 starts between them, Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs can’t be Cup Series rookies. But NASCAR no longer has a rule about the maximum number of races for a driver before he or she loses rookie status. If a reasonable rule existed, there would be no Cup Series rookies this season, and that would be no great loss.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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