By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway was a bright day for just Erik Jones while the rest of the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series struggled. All four of the ROTY contenders have experience at the 2-mile oval.
Erik Jones was the best rookie, finishing third in the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry after running inside the top-five all day long. Jones battled for both the lead and the race win.
Jones started up front and finished up front. Aside from a split pit strategy late in the final stage of the race, he was never outside of the top-five. The slightly better fuel mileage that his Toyota had allowed Jones to lead for five circuits.
Jones finished stages one and two in fourth and fifth respectively. This added an extra 13-points to his total on the day.
Briefly, Jones thought that the race win would be between himself and teammate Martin Truex, Jr.,
“I did for a few moments and then the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) really kind of picked it up there the last 50 laps or so and he was really fast. We were kind of in our own league there for a long time – we were kind of matching lap times, he would go faster and I would go faster. I really thought that whoever was out front was going to win, unfortunately neither of us got it done. Neither of us really got going great after that last restart. I spun my tires, he spun his and it just wasn’t what we needed at the end.”
Ty Dillon finished 21st after a quiet day in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. For the second week in a row, Dillon never ran inside the Top 10. This time, however, he struggled to crack the top-20.
The relatively uneventful day left Dillon mired deep in the field. He narrowly avoided an incident involving Paul Menard and Michael McDowell late in the race. However, the race ticked by quickly for Dillon.
Dillon felt that his team improved from practice,
“The balance of our GEICO Chevy felt a lot better yesterday in practice than it did today, but we were able to bring the car to us with some wedge adjustments. We had a fast race car there toward the end. The strategy was to go long on fuel mileage in the final stage of the race and it worked great. We were able to pit for four fresh tires and fuel and get a decent finish at the end of the day. ”
Corey LaJoie finished 31st, three laps down, in the No. 23 JAS Expedited Trucking Toyota Camry after a quiet day. LaJoie went down a lap early and was trapped multiple laps down by the end of the first stage.
Daniel Suarez finished the worst of the rookies after a hard crash relegated him to a 37th-place finish. Before the wreck, Suarez was running inside the top-15.
The top-15 run for Suarez ended abruptly when Kasey Kahne slid up the track ahead of him. The two drivers made contact, sending Kahne hard into the outside wall. The No. 5 Chevrolet came off the ground, landing on the hood of Suarez’s No. 19 Arris Surfboard / McAfee Toyota Camry.
Prior to the accident, Suarez had been bouncing up and down between running up front and the top-15. He led three laps after staying on track after the end of one of the stages, and finished Stage 2 in fifth.
Suarez wasn’t sure what exactly happened,
“I don’t really know, I was very, very tight and I was just trying to hold my line. I think the 5 (Kasey Kahne) – he was passing me obviously and he went up a little too soon for me. I was trying to give him some room, but actually I got out of the throttle at that point, but I don’t know if he was told it was already time to go up – I don’t know. It’s just unfortunate because we came from a streak of top-fives and now this is going to be the end of it. We’re going to regroup and come back stronger next week.”
Now the ROTY contenders will prepare to beat and bang at Bristol Motor Speedway.