By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway was a struggle for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Of the four official ROTY contenders, Corey LaJoie is the only driver with no experience at the 2-mile track.
Erik Jones once again had the best starting spot among the ROTY contenders, placing his No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry 14th on the starting grid. Jones slowly worked his way inside the Top 10. However, with 19 laps to go in Stage 1, he had to pit from eighth for a loose wheel, and lost a lap as a result. Jones finished Stage 1 in 34th, one lap down.
Jones stayed on track between Stage 1 and 2, taking the wave around and moving back onto the lead lap. Still off sequence, he pitted with 28 laps left in Stage 2, falling back off the lead lap.
With six laps to go in Stage 2, Jones moved back onto the lead lap during a sequence of green flag pit stops. He climbed to 17th by the time the stage ended. The caution between the second and final stage allowed Jones to finally get back on sequence with much of the field.
Jones finished the race in 13th, best of the 2017 ROTY class.
Jones couldn’t put his finger on the exact issue he fought all day,
“Yeah, just a long day overall. Just never quite had the car to – I think we really needed – we were fighting just being free and as the day went on we never really fixed that issue and that loose wheel early kind of got us pinned in a strategy we didn’t want to be in. Had a lot of laps – I think we had 86 laps on our left side tires – and just couldn’t quite get it there at the end.”
Ty Dillon’s qualifying speed was disallowed by NASCAR officials after the discovery of unapproved boy modifications. He started 37th, last on the grid, in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. Dillon climbed from the back to 25th.
Under the caution between Stages 1 and 2, Dillon shut the engine in an attempt to save fuel in his Germain Racing Chevrolet. He had difficulty restarting the engine, breaking the shut-off switch in the process. He slipped to 27th and one lap down by the time Stage 2 ended.
Dillon took the waved around with 50 laps to go, moving back onto the lead lap. A caution with 25 laps to go allowed him to pit under yellow and stay on the lead lap.
He managed to move back up to 20th by the time the checkered waved.
Dillon was proud of the effort his team put in,
“This Germain Racing team really gave it everything today. The guys battled on pit road. When we started off the race, the Twisted Tea Chevy was really loose, but Bootie and the guys came up with some adjustments that really helped get us in great shape. Once we hit on the right changes, the car just kept getting better. On the very last green flag, the car didn’t fire off the best, but, we were able to hang in there. This was a team effort today. It was a battle, and I’m really proud of the fight this No. 13 team put in.”
Daniel Suarez was scheduled to start 20th in the No. 19 Stanley Toyota Camry, but will start from the rear after an unapproved tire change. By the end of Stage 1, Suarez had climbed from the back up to 19th. Suarez moved up one position to 18th during Stage 2.
With 10 laps to go, Suarez got caught on the bottom of a three-wide situation. He drifted down and across the nose of Darrell Wallace, Jr. before colliding with Danica Patrick.
Suarez damaged Toyota limped to the finish, ending the race in 24th.
Corey LaJoie qualified 32nd in the No. 83 JAS Expedited Trucking Toyota Camry. LaJoie finished Stage 1 where he started, in 32nd, one lap down. In Stage 2, he lost another lap and remained in 32nd. LaJoie ended the race in 30th, three laps down.
Now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year contenders will move on to the twists and turns of Sonoma Raceway, where they will be joined by Israeli-born NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver, Alon Day, who will make his Series debut.