ATLANTA - Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson are regarded as the best group of rookies to ever join the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Both finished ranked among the top six in the overall standings and together they won four races, had 20 top-five finishes and a staggering 39 top-10s.
Although Johnson led the way with three wins and a fifth-place position in the point standings, Newman won the rookie of year honors.
The rookie of the year doesn't take all 36 races into consideration. In fact, a driver's 15-best finishes are all that's used to pick a winner. Newman, with one victory and a sixth-place finish in the rankings, had a higher concentration of top-10 finishes - 22-17 - and that's what allowed him to win, 344-321.
And while Newman and Johnson certainly made a profound impact on the sport in their first year, they don't rank as the greatest rookie in Winston Cup history. That honor goes to Tony Stewart, this year's overall champion and the top rookie in 1999.
Stewart won three races that year, and he had 21 top-10 finishes to finish fourth in the overall standings. He garnered 4,774 points in 34 races. Johnson had 4,600 points and Newman had 4,593, and they both had 36 starts.
POST-SEASON WRAP-UP: Rarely have drivers with such impressive statistics finished so poorly in the standings.
Matt Kenseth led the Winston Cup Series in victories with five, but he finished eight in the final rankings. That's the worst finish for the driver with the most wins in the sport's 53-year history.
And for the most-unusual fact and figure, consider this:
Sterling Marlin missed the final seven races of the year with a broken bone in his neck, and yet he finished 18th in the final standings. That's better than 10 other drivers - Dave Blaney, Robby Gordon, Kyle Petty, Elliott Sadler, Terry Labonte, Ward Burton, Jeremy Mayfield, John Andretti, Ken Schrader and Mike Skinner - who competed in all 36 races.
PIT STOPS: Stewart's hometown, Columbus, Ind., already has a sign on Indiana Highway 46 saluting his Winston Cup Series championship. It also notes his Indy Racing League championship, as well as three USAC titles in 1995 and his 1996 Indianapolis 500 and 1999 Winston Cup rookie of the year titles ... Robert "Bootie" Barker was hired to replace Ryan Pemberton as the crew chief for Dave Blaney at Jasper Motorsports ... Tommy Baldwin Jr. was hired as the new crew chief for the No. 7 Dodge at Ultra Motorsports. All the team needs now is a driver ... Newly-crowed NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Mike Bliss will move to the Busch Series in 2003. He will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.