By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway was a quiet race for most of the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. All five of the ROTY contenders have had experience at the 2.5-mile track nicknamed the ‘Tricky Triangle.’
Daniel Suarez was the best rookie, for the second week in a row, finishing seventh at Pocono after having a quiet race in his No. 19 Stanley Tools Toyota Camry. Although the stage finishes do not show it, Suarez ran well within the Top 15 throughout the day.
Pit strategy kept Suarez outside the Top 10 at stage end, but kept him up front when it mattered. Late in the race, he was inside the top five, contending for the lead before finally having to pit. After the cycle ended, Suarez found himself battling fellow ROTY contender Erik Jones for position. He finished just 0.358 seconds ahead of Jones, his rookie rival.
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.”
Erik Jones finished in eighth in the No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota Camry after mistakes on pit road made for an eventful day. Some of the mistakes were the fault of Jones, while others were the fault of his Furniture Row Racing pit crew.
The costly mistake came late in the race when a wheel was left loose on Jones’ Toyota. He recovered from running outside the Top 20 to inside the Top 10. Ultimately, Jones ran out of time on his way back up to the top five.
The mistakes on pit road started on the very first pit stop for Jones. He stalled leaving his pit box during a round of green flag pit stops. The gaffe was brief, but relegated Jones to a 13th place finish in Stage 1.
Jones liked the speed, but couldn’t get his Toyota to cooperate on handling,
“It was okay, just up and down, just needed track position most of the day and then got behind, had a loose wheel and put us way behind. Just had to work back from that. The SiriusXM Camry had good speed, but just the handling wasn’t great all day – rear grip really. We made some adjustments throughout the day and just have to keep working at it.”
Ty Dillon finished 17th, the first car one lap down, after narrowly avoiding disaster on lap one in the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS. Otherwise, the race was quiet for the Germain Racing driver.
Dillon had to avoid the chaos in turn three after starting deep in the 38-car field. As several spun or hit the grass in front of him, Dillon slowed and navigated his way through the smoke and debris. He narrowly avoided the destroyed Ford Fusions of Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto.
Dillon took to Twitter to express how proud he was of his team,
Proud of our finish had to really work hard for it!
— Ty Dillon (@tydillon) July 30, 2017
Corey LaJoie finished 25th, one lap down, in the No. 23 Lehigh Valley Phantoms Toyota Camry, his best result since the July Daytona race. It was a quiet for the BK Racing driver.
Gray Gaulding finished 31st, three laps down, in the No. 15 LaColombe Chevrolet SS for Premium Motorsports.