Rookie of the Year
Once Kulwicki had enough sponsorship in place, his primary goal was to win NASCAR’s annual Rookie of the Year award. Missing some early races in the season put him at a disadvantage, and Kulwicki only had two full-time crew members helping him out. He also had only one car, nicknamed "Sirloin, because it was so tough on so many tracks." But as the season wore on, other rookies fell out of contention for the award or cut back their schedules.
Kulwicki’s primary challenger for Rookie of the Year became Michael Waltrip. Waltrip had run more races in the season, but Kulwicki had been the highest finishing rookie in 18 of the season's 29 races. NASCAR's rookie points system scored driver performance based on their best 15 finishes in the season, allowing Kulwicki to compile more rookie points than Waltrip. However, the award winner was actually determined by a panel vote, and one of the panelists was the defending Winston Cup champion, Michael’s brother Darrell. Nobody was sure if Darrell would adhere to Kulwicki’s higher rookie point total or try to sway the panel in his brother’s favor. But in the end, Kulwicki’s level of performance earned him the panel’s support and Rookie of the Year honors.
Looking back on his rookie season, Kulwicki reflected that “By all rights, I probably should have failed. "I learned a great deal in the early years. We've overcome the odds ever since the beginning of my Winston Cup career. But, I really don't know if I could ever go back and repeat what we did back then.”