By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway was a tale of two races for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. All five of the ROTY contenders have experience at ‘The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.’
Erik Jones was the best rookie for the second week in a row, finishing second in the No. 77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota Camry after running inside the top-five all night long. Jones led a race-high 260-laps on his way to a career-best finish of second.
Jones started on the pole and stayed up front throughout the race. Lap traffic ultimately played a role in Jones finishing second to his mentor, Kyle Busch. On several occasions, Jones had the faster car but could not get around the slower traffic without losing time.
Jones never ran lower than fifth. This can be seen in his stage finishes. Jones was second in stage one and fifth in stage two. This added an extra 15-points to his total on the day.
Jones was clearly disappointed he missed out on what could have been his first career win,
“It’s a bummer, I mean you can’t lie. I thought we had a really good day and we fought hard all day. We had our ups and downs and led a lot of laps and didn’t have quite enough at the end. Kyle (Busch) is really good here. But we had a good 5-Hour Energy Camry. Just needed a little more at the end. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t have it. I did what I could, but it just wasn’t quite enough.”
Daniel Suarez rebounded from a DNF last weekend to finish 15th in the No. 19 IRWIN / Lenox Toyota Camry. For Suarez, Bristol was relatively quiet.
Suarez ran inside the top-20 throughout the night. At one point, he was as high as 14th. However, Suarez never cracked the top-10 in any of the stages.
Corey LaJoie finished 28th, five laps down, in the No. 83 HMS Motorsport 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.
Gray Gaulding finished 31st, 12 laps down in the No 55 LaColombe Draft Latte Chevrolet SS. Early in the race, Gaulding contacted Jimmie Johnson shortly after falling a lap down. He was never able to earn his lap back.
Ty Dillon finished 36th, 106 laps down after a horrendous night in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. Dillon ended up in several incidents in the race.
Dillon had tire problems twice in the race. The final time was terminal as he was forced to head behind the wall.
Dillon attributed his first accident to a part failure,
“It really felt like we had some raw speed in our GEICO Chevrolet. We had a couple pit road penalties and ended up three laps down. We earned one back and felt like we were fast enough to get more laps back. We got into the wall a little earlier on and probably weakened the ball joint a little bit. We hit the wall again and the car is done. It was a really rough night but we did seem to have good speed in our car tonight.”
Next for the ROTY contenders is the “Track too Tough to Tame,” Darlington Raceway.