By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was relatively quiet for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Of the five ROTY contenders only Gray Gaulding has no previous experience at Charlotte.
Erik Jones started a career best fifth in his No. 77 5-Hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry. Jones hit some of the debris that came off Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car, forcing him to pit for repairs on lap 22. Jones finished Stage 2 in the seventh position, gaining four additional championship points. He finished Stage 3 in fifth, gaining another six championship points. When the checkered flag waved, Jones earned his best career finish, seventh.
Jones was happy with the performance of his team,
“It was a good night and a solid night. This was what we needed after some tough races and tonight we just needed a good, solid finish so it was good to get a top-10. I think our car was a little bit better than that. We just got that hole in the nose early and never got the balance the same. The 5-hour Energy Camry was good and it was just nice to have a good night.”
Daniel Suarez started 20th in his No. 19 Subway Toyota Camry. The first two stages were quiet for Suarez as he kept his nose clean. He finished Stage 3 in the eighth position, gaining three championship points. When the checkered flag waved, Suarez was in 11th.
Suarez admitted that his team was not the best on long runs,
“It was good, we made some adjustments to the race car at the beginning of the race and then we made some changes, then we went back to where we started. I felt like we had an eighth to a 10th place car all night long. We were not the best on the long runs, but we were good on the short runs. Just a little behind there at the end with it being a fuel mileage race, we gambled a little bit there and it didn’t quite work out 100 percent.”
Gray Gaulding started 32nd in the No. 23 Bubba Burger Toyota Camry. After a quiet night, Gaulding found himself 27th, seven laps down.
Corey LaJoie did not make a qualifying lap after inspection issues and started 40th in the No. 83 Hope for Warriors Toyota Camry. LaJoie’s race was quiet. However, he did not finish the race, ending up 31st, 85 laps down.
Ty Dillon started 27th in the No. 13 GEICO Military Chevrolet SS. Dillon started at the rear of the field after an unapproved tire change prior to the green. He lost a lap early after smoke was seen from his Chevrolet shortly after the first caution. Dillon’s engine finally let go halfway into Stage 3. He ended up finishing 36th, 158 laps down.
Dillon was disappointed with his team’s misfortune,
“It ended up being a rear-end gear. Not really sure what it is, but it blew a huge hole out the back. Just mechanical failure. It was a rough day for our GEICO Military Chevy. We had a fast car, but right on the start the No. 38…some cars checked up in front of us, the No. 38 never really got slowed up and ran into our door and put the fender on the tire.”
“So, we had to come down and do a green flag stop right out of the gate and put us two laps down. So, we were trying things to get ourselves back on the lead lap or get some laps back. Just kind of snake bitten all race and then apparently, the day was kind of doomed from the start and blew a rear-end gear. Unfortunate, we have had a great year so far and we will go on to Dover and be strong there.”
Now the five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookies will move on to Dover International Speedway where they hope to survive what the ‘Monster Mile’ has in store.