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When a driver enters their first season in the NASCAR Cup Series, standards and practices dictate that their car features a yellow stripe along their rear bumper to indicate to the other drivers that they are a rookie. The way things are going, the stripe may as well be blue, as the rookie ranks of stock car racing have been dominated by blue oval drivers.

At NASCAR Champion's Week in Nashville, Chase Briscoe will officially be crowned as the Cup Series Rookie of the Year for 2021, following up on fellow Ford driver Cole Custer earning the title in 2020. It's a conquest for Ford that was assured from the outset of the year. Briscoe and his Rookie of the Year title competitor, Anthony Alfredo, both drove Fords.

As things stand, Ford may very well be assured a three-peat in 2022: As of early December, three candidates have been announced to be running for Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series. Austin Cindric at Team Penske, Harrison Burton for Wood Brothers Racing, and Todd Gilliland for Front Row Motorsports. All three will drive for Ford.

With a flourishing pipeline of young drivers headed to the Cup Series, Ford's driver development program has become a resounding and demonstrable success -- something that wasn't always the case, but something that has now become a strength of the auto maker's racing program thanks to a concentrated approach to preparing its drivers for racing's highest levels.

"I know for sure when I came in, I was kind of the first one after a long wait of not doing anything development wise," Briscoe said at NASCAR Champion's Week. "Ever since then, you've seen a lot of guys come through different paths from ARCA to Trucks and Xfinity ... I think Ford has done a really good job of not only even with the rookies, but even the veteran guys, trying to get us all together and really develop us.

"Two years ago we went and did a Rallycross school, going and doing road course schools, trying to get us as much experience in different things as possible. And they do the same thing with the rookies. So I think that just goes a long way. I think they're kind of doing more diversity as far as just different types of disciplines than some of the other manufacturers are, and I think that goes a long way when you get in the Cup Series where you go to so many different types of racetracks."

Ford's focus on young drivers has come from both within their own pipeline as well as from the outside: Gilliland and Burton, for instance, both came up through the racing ranks with Toyota. Other drivers to have joined the blue oval from other manufacturers in the past three years have included Alfredo, John Hunter Nemechek, and Matt Tifft.

Not long ago, one of the young drivers brought along by Ford was Ryan Blaney. Now a grizzled veteran and established Cup star at 27, and someone who can appreciate what his manufacturer is doing.

"Ford's done a great job of having a good feeder system to have drivers get up to the Cup Series and work their way up the ranks," Blaney said. "And all three of those guys that are gonna be going for Rookie of the Year next year, they've all done a great job. Austin and Todd have been with the Ford deal for a few years now, and Harrison's coming from Toyota. But Ford has just always wanted a good, healthy kind of match of drivers no matter what series it is: Sports cars, NASCAR, whatever.

"They do a good job of giving a lot of kids great opportunities. I was one of them, and I'll always be thankful for that, and they've done it to a lot of other people too."

The reputations of all three incoming Ford rookies precedes them: Austin Cindric won 13 times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and was its champion in 2020. Harrison Burton, the son of former NASCAR star Jeff Burton, became an established short track ace before winning four times in Xfinity. Gilliland, the son of NASCAR veteran David Gilliland, won twice in the Truck Series over nearly four full seasons.

All three will have more of an opportunity to get acclimated to Cup cars, as all three will have something that the rookie classes of 2020 and 2021 were largely deprived of -- practice.

Michael McDowell, who will serve as the veteran teammate to a rookie for the fourth year in a row, has seen just how much steeper the Cup learning curve has been without extra track time during the weekend. But with the introduction of NASCAR's Next Gen car, he believes next season presents a prime opportunity for a rookie driver to get in and compete.

"This car is so much different than anything we've ever had. When we went to the [Car of Tomorrow], everyone was like 'Oh wow, this is a huge, huge change.' ... It was pretty much the same racecar we've had," McDowell said. "This is a completely different racecar. This is nothing like we've ever raced before.

"So now's a good time to do it. We know it's gonna be a growing year, it's gonna be a challenge for [Todd], it's a big jump going to Cup. But at least we'll have practices, at least we'll have that opportunity where I can help him."

While there's still two months to go before the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series field is established, the chances are good that another Ford driver will join an increasingly notable line of drivers to win Rookie of the Year honors for the blue oval. Notable Rookie of the Year drivers to represent Ford include NASCAR Hall of Famer Davey Allison (1987), Jeff Burton (1994), Matt Kenseth (2000), Ryan Newman (2002), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2013) among others.