By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway was hit and miss for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. All four of the ROTY contenders have experience on the 1-mile oval.
Daniel Suarez started a career best third in his No. 19 STANLEY Toyota Camry. Suarez narrowly avoided an early accident between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Suarez finished Stage 1 in 10th, earning one extra Championship Point.
Stage 2 was quiet for Suarez, however he slipped to 13th, preventing him from earning any extra Championship Points.
For much of the rest of the race, Suarez was quietly hanging around the 10th position.In the chaos on the final restart, he jumped up to finish sixth, his best career finish and fourth career Top 10.
Suarez was happy to improve on his best career finish,
“I think it was good. Like everything, ups and downs. In the beginning, we were okay and then later on we were pretty bad. We were able to make some adjustments and get back to a top-10. I feel like we had a top-10 car and we ended up right there. I think the entire team is making process and that’s for sure and I’m very proud of that and we just have to keep working and keep moving in the same direction.”
Ty Dillon started 21st in his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. Dillon was outside the Top 10 at the end of both stages.
Dillon was the only rookie yet to pit during a round of green flag pit stops with 70 laps to go when the caution waved, leaving him as the only rookie on the lead lap. After the pit cycle, he assumed the race lead. Dillon led for 30 laps until Kyle Larson finally caught him and completed the pass.
Dillon stayed out in third under caution with three laps to go. On the restart he got turned in front of the field and was clobbered by Jones and others. Dillon ended up 14th.
Dillon was proud of the effort his Germain Racing team put forward,
“First of all, I’m really proud of our Germain Racing team. I can’t thank Bob Germain enough for giving me the opportunity to come out here and race with these guys, it’s a lifelong dream. To lead laps like that meant a lot to me.”
“We had to restart fourth on old tires and I just think the air off the No. 31 got me a little loose and they left a bunch of sand there off Turn 2 and as soon as I got loose and hit that sand it was all over. I feel bad for all the cars that got torn up. But, really, I don’t really know what the No. 31 or myself could have done any different to stay out of that crash. Proud of our effort today. We proved to ourselves as a team that we can run up front with the big boys and just proud of our effort by our GEICO Chevy.”
Erik Jones started seventh in his No. 77 5-Hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry. Jones spun in final practice in turns one and two but did not hit anything.
The first stage was quiet for Jones as he finished in eighth, earning three additional Championship Points.
Stage 2 also was quiet for Jones as he finished in ninth, netting another two Championship Points.
With 89 laps to go, Jones cut a right front tire, forcing him to pit road. He fell two laps down and fell from ninth to 25th as a result. He finally got back on the lead lap when the caution waved with 57 laps to go.
Jones moved up to sixth after staying out under caution with three laps to go. On the restart Jones nailed the spinning car of Ty Dillon, having nowhere to go. Jones ended the day in 15th.
Gray Gaulding started 32nd in his No. 23 Addiction Campuses Toyota Camry. Gaulding had a quiet day and finished in 24th.
Now all four the full-time ROTY contenders, and Corey LaJoie who returns at Pocono Raceway, will look to tame the Tricky Triangle.