By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway was the first chance for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to play the role of spoiler in the Playoffs. All five of the ROTY contenders have had previous experience at Chicagoland.
Daniel Suarez was the best rookie in the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota Camry, finishing 12th. Suarez was the only ROTY contender to finish on the lead lap after running inside the top-15 all day long.
Suarez quietly ran inside the top-15 the entire day. He kept his nose clean and avoided pit road penalties. His new pit crew, formerly Kyle Busch’s pit crew, had clean pit stops throughout the race.
Suarez may not have played spoiler in the end, but his ninth-place finish in Stage 1 kept at least one Playoff driver from earning additional points.
Suarez took to Twitter, stating that his team just has to keep working to find speed,
Solid day in Chicago just have to keep working to find speed. || Día sólido en Chicago, tenemos que seguir trabajando para tener velocidad. pic.twitter.com/wvrRikx4UP
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) September 17, 2017
Ty Dillon finished 28th, five laps down, in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS after yet another quiet race. Dillon was never able to crack into the top-20 throughout the race.
Dillon’s Chevrolet never quite had the same speed as the Playoff competitors all of whom finished ahead of him. He was mired back in 25rd and 27th in the first two stages.
Dillon admitted that for the second week in a row, his Germain Racing team missed the setup,
“This wasn’t the day that we were looking to have in Chicago. We were too far off to start the first stage. I was way too loose and didn’t have any grip on entry and exit. My team made changes to get us handling better, but we had lost too much ground to the leaders by then. We’ve grown a lot as a team this year and the next step is to start these races stronger. We always get to where we need to be later in the race, but we need to be there from the time that we unload on Friday morning. This team grinds like no other, though, and we will take what we can from this weekend and use it to be better at this track next year.”
Erik Jones finished a disappointing 33rd, eight laps down, in the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry after struggling throughout the weekend. A spin in qualifying was followed up with a pit road speeding penalty and a cut tire in the race.
A cut left rear tire sent Jones spinning in turns three and four late in the race. This capped off what was a struggle for the Furniture Row Racing rookie.
Jones’s quiet race began to unravel with a pit road speeding penalty in the first stage. He ended up being trapped one lap down in the middle of the pack when the stage ended. He was never able to regain his lap or track position.
Corey LaJoie finished 36th, 11 laps down, in the No. 23 Jewel Osco 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 38th, 13 laps down in the No. 55 US First Responders Association Toyota Camry. Gaulding, like LaJoie, lost a lap early and never recovered.
All of the rookie of the year contenders will now head back to the ‘Magic Mile’ at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where they will look once again to try to be the Playoff spoiler.