By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was an eventful race for most of the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Of the five ROTY contenders Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding have no experience at the historic 2.5-mile track.
Daniel Suarez was the best rookie, finishing seventh at Indianapolis by being the only rookie to avoid trouble. Suarez avoided the attrition and survived to score another Top 10.
Suarez ran inside the Top 15 all day long. Somehow throughout the chaos in the late laps of the race, he kept his nose clean. In doing so, Suarez crept up the leaderboard until he reached the seventh position when a race-ending caution waved.
Suarez considered himself lucky to have survived the finish,
“It was tough. I feel like we had an okay car, but it was a very crazy race. A lot of accidents and a lot of stuff going on right there at the end and we are lucky that we survived.”
Ty Dillon’s Brickyard 400 ended abruptly in an accident on the final overtime attempt. Dillon wound up 19th after running inside the Top 15 towards the end of the race.
One memorable moment for Dillon in the race came when he blocked Kyle Larson on a late restart. He drove Larson all the way to the bottom of the racetrack on the frontstretch. The duo made contact, sending Larson spinning back across the track. Larson put the blame for the incident on Dillon and the excessive blocking.
Dillon was dejected by the end of his Brickyard 400,
“That was heartbreaking. The GEICO Chevy crew did an awesome job keeping us in the game on pit road today. We made adjustments that helped the car and we learned so much that will help us when we come back to this place. This Germain Racing team worked so hard and we were in position for a good finish. I love Indy. I don’t love leaving it with unfinished business like that. We will be back.”
Gray Gaulding finished 24th, five laps down, after what looked like a quiet day in the No. 55 Low T Centers Chevrolet SS for Premium Motorsports. On one of the final attempts at overtime, Gaulding was caught in a track-blocking melee coming to take the green flag.
Erik Jones finished in 31st in the No. 77 Sport Clips Toyota Camry after running up front and leading laps in Stage 2. For much of the race Jones was running well inside the Top 15.
With 12 laps to go, Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion broke loose. Bowyer contacted Jones’ Toyota, sending the rookie spinning into the outside wall. Having nowhere to go, both Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch plowed into the wreck. The damage was too much for Jones to drive away, his day over.
Evidence of the strength of Jones’ Toyota can be seen in his fourth-place finish in Stage 2. This netted him seven extra Championship Points.
Jones summed up the wreck as the story of his teams’ season,
“Yeah, it’s been the story of our season. We’ve run well, run up front, just haven’t been able to close the races out whether it’s our own fault, bad luck or circumstance, so we know we can take a lot away from it – I can at least, you know, the experience and the strategy here that plays out. And it’s a tough place, especially in a Cup car and I learned a lot to come back with next year.”
Corey LaJoie had the dubious honor of finishing last after cutting down a right rear tire and backing into the wall just nine laps into the race in the No. 23 Dr Pepper Toyota Camry.