By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
After finishing ahead of fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders at Texas Motor Speedway, Ty Dillon carried a little momentum into Bristol Motor Speedway.
Weather was an issue throughout the weekend, forcing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying to be canceled. As a result, Dillon started 24th on the grid, behind fellow rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
In the first practice for the Food City 500, Dillon placed his No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS 20th on the speed charts. He was 28th and 23rd fastest in the final two practices respectively.
The green flag finally waved Monday afternoon after rain forced NASCAR officials to postpone the start of the race.
Dillon struggled early in the race. As the laps clicked off, he soon fell into the clutches of race leader Kyle Larson. Soon after Larson lapped Dillon the caution waved for an accident in turn one. Dillon benefitted and earned the lucky dog for being the first car one lap down.
Dillon restarted on the lead lap, but at the tail-end of the longest line. He struggled to make his way through the traffic. Dillon used the high-line to try to get by several lap cars, slapping the outside wall. He did this a second time just before being lapped by the race leader.
Ty Dillon then received some help from his older brother Austin Dillon. Austin Dillon fought hard in the final laps of Stage 1. His persistence payed off and he held off Larson to stay on the lead lap. This allowed Ty Dillon to receive the lucky dog for the second caution in a row.
Ty Dillon once again struggled to work his way through the traffic. However, luck was once again on his side. Kyle Busch cut a tire and bounced off the wall, bringing out another caution, and Dillon was the lucky dog.
The race only went green for another lap before the caution waved. Dillon then leap-frogged the lap traffic to restart with the leaders.
Dillon remained on the lead lap for much of the next 200 laps. During this time, Saurez pitted under green due to overheating issues costing him several laps. Erik Jones was then the only rookie ahead of Dillon.
However, Dillon contacted the outside wall for the third time, and eventually slipped from the lead lap.
Meanwhile, Jones was inside the Top 10 and looked as if he could contend for the win late. This changed after he contacted another rookie, Gray Gaulding. A flat left front tire sent Jones into the outside wall. AJ Allmendinger had no time to react and rammed Jones’ car. The damage forced Jones onto the five-minute repair clock. The ensuing caution also gave Dillon the lucky dog.
Dillon stayed on the lead lap for the remainder of the race, crossing the line in the 15th position. For the second race in a row, Dillon finished the best of the ROTY contenders. Dillon also moved up to 22nd in the championship point standings, 216 points behind Larson.
Dillon was happy to end up 15th after battling all day,
“It was definitely a battle for our No. 13 GEICO Chevy team today. We got damage to the right rear at the end of the first stage that really hurt our speed through the rest of the day. So, our race really became about getting track position any way that we could.”
“My spotter did great getting me through traffic, and Crew Chief Bootie Barker and my guys on pit road did everything that could to keep us where we needed to be. We had to fight for all that we could, and I gave it everything that I had. It was a good day to come out of Bristol with a 15th-place finish.”
Dillon and his No. 13 GEICO team will now look to continue their recent momentum in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.