By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway was filled with impressive runs for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. All four of the ROTY contenders have had experience at the 2.5-mile restrictor plate track.
Erik Jones finished in ninth in the No. 77 Sport Clips Toyota Camry after a late spin sent him outside the Top 20. In the short run after the spin, Jones somehow made his way through the chaos that is restrictor plate racing to score his fourth career Top 10 finish.
The moment of the race for Jones proved to be the end of Stage 1 when crew chief Chris Gayle called Jones down pit road, pre-empting the closure of pit road. Although he did not gain any stage points, this put Jones in prime position for the beginning of Stage 2. The track position allowed him to lead nine laps, however, he ended up finishing the stage in 18th.
Jones was happy his up and down night ended with a Top 10,
“It was an up and down night. We were up front at a few points and back at a few points – just learning and trying to figure everything out. I don’t know exactly what happened when we got spun around. I think I got up inside of somebody or somebody came down on me and just got spun around unfortunately. Still got a decent finish out of it – top-10 at a superspeedway so that’s a good finish and some momentum for next week.”
Corey LaJoie earned his best career finish, 11th, after a race that saw him up front and in the back multiple times. LaJoie ran inside the Top 10 off and on throughout the race, despite starting 36th in the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry.
LaJoie was most notably shuffled out of line while running seventh by Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.
Ty Dillon ended the Coke Zero 400 in 16th despite being second coming to the final restart. It looked as if Dillon had the field covered with 10 laps to go after taking the lead from eventual race winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
However, cautions did not fall Dillon’s way and David Ragan snatched the lead before the final caution waved with two laps to go.
Dillon did gain three additional Championship Points after finishing Stage 2 in the eighth position in his No. 13 GEICO Military Chevrolet SS.
Daniel Suarez was uncharacteristically the ‘worst’ rookie when the checkered flag settled, finishing in 17th. Suarez, led the race off and on for a total of 11 laps, and like Dillon late in the race.
Early in the race, Suarez had to take evasive action. Kyle Larson contacted another car ahead of Suarez, who then dove down pit road to avoid the possibility of an accident. As a result, he lost the draft. A caution shortly thereafter allowed Suarez to catch back up to the field.
Suarez pointed to bad luck for his poor finish,
“The race was good and we ran definitely much better than where we finished. Just all the starts and restarts, those last two restarts we were on the bottom and it wasn’t going anywhere. Just a little bad luck there at the end of the race.”
Now all the rookies will head to Kentucky Speedway where the difference of between the two sets of corners is reminiscent of Texas Motor Speedway.