By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway was a difficult test for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Of the three official ROTY contenders, Daniel Suarez is the only driver with experience at the 1.99-mile road course, and at the end of the day he was the best of the 2017 Rookie class.
Daniel Suarez started the weekend off by running the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 at Sonoma. He started seventh and finished 11th in the race.
Suarez’s extra track time payed off early as he qualified the best of his ROTY contenders in 11th in his No. 19 Stanley Toyota Camry.
Suarez pitted on lap three after flat-spotting his tires while avoiding Clint Bowyer. He caught back up to the field after a caution for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Danica Patrick, and Kyle Larson. When Stage 1 ended, Suarez was 32nd.
Suarez spun after contact from road racing specialist Billy Johnson in turn seven. As he spun, Suarez grabbed a gear and bolted back into the action without a caution. He then pitted with three laps left in Stage 2. After pitting, Suarez finished Stage 2 in 29th.
The final stage was quiet for Suarez. He took the checkered flag in the 15th position, the best of the ROTY contenders.
Erik Jones started 30th in his No. 77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota Camry. Jones had a rough start to the weekend, first cutting a tire, and then wheel-hopping into the wall at turn 11, forcing his Furniture Row Racing team to a back-up car.
Jones struggled in Stage 1, ending the stage in 33rd.
With three laps to go in Stage 2, Jones pitted from the Top 20. This dropped him to 30th at the end of the stage.
In the final stage, Jones ran as far up as the Top 15 before green flag pit stops. He ultimately ended the day in 25th, one lap down.
Jones felt like he learned throughout the race,
“It was a long day. You know, learning all day and come home with a top 25 is all we really wanted to do. You know not really sure how to get around there, so got to go back and look – figure out how to be faster, better for next time and hopefully come back with a little more speed.”
Ty Dillon qualified 35th in his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. Despite starting near the end of the field, Dillon finished Stage 1 in 16th, best of the ROTY competitors.
Halfway into the second stage, Dillon came to a halt in turn 11 to avoid slamming into the spinning Chevrolet of AJ Allmendinger. Dillon recovered after stopping on track to finish Stage 2 in 15th.
Dillon ran in the Top 15 for much of the final stage before having to pit with about 13 laps to go. He ended up taking the checkered flag in 28th, one lap down.
Making Their Debut:
Five drivers made their debut at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. Those five drivers are Alon Day, Billy Johnson, Josh Bilicki, Kevin O’Connell, and Tommy Regan.
Of the drivers making their debut, Johnson had the best result, 22nd, after run-ins with both Dillon and Matt Kenseth.