The youngest competitor in the veteran-laden NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, 19-year-old Patrick Emerling made his mark in 2011 and has clinched Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
From Orchard Park, N.Y., Emerling has finished as the top rookie in seven of 15 events this year and has earned enough points against his fellow first-year counterparts to secure the season-long Sunoco Rookie of the Year award with one race remaining on the schedule.
Emerling has compiled 137 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings to out-distance a pair of more experienced drivers from New York’s Long Island. Bryon Chew, from Mattituck, has 121 points while Patchogue’s Tom Rogers Jr. has 64.
“I had a lot of fun,” Emerling said of his first year. “The competition is just way up there. It’s a lot different from what I did before. I learned so much along the way.”
Emerling came to the Whelen Modified Tour following two years of Modified racing in Upstate New York. He has posted five top-10 finishes and sits 16th in the overall standings. Emerling also competed in the first four races of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season and earned a Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award there as well.
The highlight of Emerling’s first campaign came at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in August when he rallied from two different spins to finish fifth in the Whelen Modified-Whelen Southern Modified Tour combination race.
“Week after week was a learning experience,” Emerling said. “It was pretty much my learning year. We did the best we could.”
Emerling, Chew and Rogers will be recognized during NASCAR Touring Series Awards Gala events on Dec. 10 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
Chew, a former competitor in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, has earned the Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award in four of the 14 events in which he has participated in his first season of open-wheel competition. A championship driver from Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified division, Rogers joined the Whelen Modified Tour on a part-time basis this year and has finished as the top rookie in half of the eight races in which he has competed.
Emerling now joins the list of Sunoco Rookie of the Year winners in the Whelen Modified Tour such as eventual Tour champions Todd Szegedy (2002) and Donny Lia (2003). Justin Bonsignore was the most recent Sunoco Rookie of the Year honoree in 2010.
A total of seven drivers have earned points toward Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors during the 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, which will conclude on Oct. 16 at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway.