By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway was a battle against loose conditions for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Several found their cars to be so loose that it affected their position on track. Of the five ROTY contenders only Gray Gaulding has no previous experience at Kansas.
Daniel Suarez qualified the best of the rookies once again, placing his No. 19 STANLEY Toyota Camry 15th on the starting grid. Suarez ran well often, but fought a loose condition for much of the race. He just missed finishing inside the Top 10 in Stage 2, ending up 11th. Suarez just missed earning additional Championship points by two tenths. Suarez kept his nose clean and finished the race in seventh, tying his career best finish for the third time.
Suarez was proud to the work that his team put in,
“Very proud of the way that the car worked the entire race. Scott (Graves, crew chief) and the guys they did a very good job. We had a top-10 car and that’s exactly where we ended up. Very happy for the performance of the car and looking forward to keep digging, keep working and keep learning for next weekend.”
Ty Dillon placed his No. 13 Twisted Tea Chevrolet SS 22nd on the starting grid. Dillon stayed out under a caution around midway through Stage 1. The strategy backfired as his Chevrolet broke loose and spun a few laps later. Dillon’s race was quiet until nine laps to go. Dillon hooked and spun Erik Jones on the front stretch as they exited turn four. Dillon finished the race in 14th.
Dillon found it nearly impossible to make passes,
“We struggled in the first two stages to find the perfect balance for our No. 13 Twisted Tea Chevrolet. We spun when we stayed out with old tires, but we didn’t get any damage and were able to recover. It started coming to us there in the final stage, but it was just impossible to pass cars. We really needed track position that we just didn’t have. We picked up some spots at the end with the cautions though and brought home a solid top-15 finish.”
Erik Jones’ No. 77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota Camry started 32nd after his Furniture Row Racing team failed the LIS station in pre-qualifying tech. In practice, Jones spun off turn four but did not receive any damage.
15 laps into Stage 2, Jones spun off turn two. Just like his spin in practice, he did not hit anything and returned to the race, now under caution. Jones recovered to finish Stage 2 in ninth, earning two additional Championship points.
Jones spun once again with just over 50 laps to go. And once again, he avoided any damage.
Jones stayed on track while the rest of the field pitted under caution with 23 laps to go. This backfired for him as he was spun by Dillon with nine laps to go on the front stretch. He ended up taking the checkered in 22nd.
Corey LaJoie had the worst starting position of the ROTY contenders by default as he failed to pass the LIS station in pre-qualifying tech. He ended up 38th on the starting grid. LaJoie had a quiet race going until a flat right front sent him into the wall on lap 136. He limped to pit road for repairs and was put on the five-minute repair clock. Another flat with under 25 laps sent LaJoie hard into the outside wall. He finished the race in 27th, two laps down.
Gray Gaulding earned the best qualifying record of his career, placing the No. 23 Dr Pepper Toyota Camry 25th on the starting grid. Gaulding had a quiet race going until he clipped the wall exiting turn four on lap 145. Entering turn one a lap later, Gaulding’s right rear tire went down. One lap after the ensuing restart, Gaulding’s car billowed smoke once more, forcing him to pit road again. Gaulding ended the race in the 34th position, 36 laps down.
Now all of the rookies will prepare for the Monster Energy Open with the hope that they will qualify for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.