By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway was the final chance for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to make the Playoffs. All five of the ROTY contenders have had previous experience at Richmond.
Erik Jones was the best rookie for the fourth week in a row, narrowly beating out Daniel Suarez for sixth in the No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota Camry after running inside the top-five all night long. A missed shift on the last, crucial restart cost Jones possibly a chance for his first win, and a Playoff berth.
Jones had a strong night in which only a win could lock the rookie into his first Playoff bid. Despite running as high as third, he was never able to contend with teammate Martin Truex, Jr., or eventual winner Kyle Larson for the top two positions.
Jones did put on a show, running three-wide on several occasions to move ahead of lap traffic. These moves helped him finish seventh and third in the first two stages.
Jones was disappointed that his mistake cost him a chance for a win,
“Well, I was hoping we’d try to make it three wide and make something happen, you know? We were just going to have to bully our way to the front and unfortunately we just didn’t get the chance. I just missed third gear and messed up. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a shift before. It’s just really disappointing. I really hate it for my guys and hate that we didn’t at least get a shot at it. Would have loved to go after it, but the SiriusXM Camry was good all night. We were a top-five car all night. We just didn’t quite find that last little bit of speed we needed, but had the restart we wanted – had the shot we wanted – just didn’t work out.”
Daniel Suarez finally rebounded in the No. 19 Arris Toyota Camry, finishing seventh. Suarez ran a quiet race throughout the night.
Suarez’s crew slowly improved his Toyota, which ran as low as 23rd at one point. It looked as if he was poised to earn another top-five finish until Erik Jones spun his tires in front of him on the final restart. Suarez pounded the rear of Jones’ car, but somehow kept enough momentum to finish seventh.
Ty Dillon finished 22nd, one lap down, in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS after another quiet night. Dillon was never able to crack into the top-20 throughout the race.
Dillon’s Chevrolet never quite had the speed as the Fords, Hendrick Chevrolets, and Toyotas. He was mired back in 23rd and 27th in the first two stages.
Dillon admitted that his Germain Racing team missed the setup,
“We worked on this GEICO Chevrolet SS all weekend. I thought maybe we’d learned something last night that could help us tonight, but it turned out that chassis adjustment didn’t apply tonight. The pit crew turned in some great stops tonight and we made some positive adjustments to the car, we just didn’t have the lateral grip we needed. It was a tough night, but we battled through it and this Germain Racing team will be better when we come back here next year. I have to give a shout out to the guys over at RCR. It’s great to see two RCR Chevys make the playoffs!”
Corey LaJoie finished 29th, four laps down, in the No. 83 Safeway / LaBella Hair Design Toyota Camry after a quiet day. LaJoie went down a lap early was trapped multiple laps down by the end of the first stage.
Gray Gaulding finished 35th, 11 laps down in the No. 23 sweetFrog Toyota Camry. Gaulding suffered from voltage issues throughout the night.
Now all of the rookie of the year contenders will look to play the role of spoiler throughout the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, starting next week at Chicagoland Speedway.