Rookie Report: Coca-Cola 600
By Zachary Lange
May 29, 2017
CONCORD, N.C.—Five Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates were among the 40 starters in the Coca-Cola 600
at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night. It was a wet, weather impacted night at Charlotte with rain delaying the race at lap 143 for a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes.
In a test of endurance, each driver had a unique ride during the season’s singular four stage race.
No. 13 Ty Dillon
Dillon started in the rear of the field after an unapproved tire change at his first career start in the Coke 600.
Trouble struck early in Stage 1 for the younger Dillon, after contact with David Ragan forced him to pit to repair left side damage. The Germain Racing product was scored 31st at the end of the Stage 1, two laps down.
Dillon continued to make slight improvement, battling ahead to the 26th position at the halfway mark which severed as the end of Stage 2. But on lap 245, Dillon had a rear gear break, forcing the car to retire early.
Brother Austin went on to capture victory at Charlotte, saving what otherwise was a day of bad luck.
Dillon unofficially finished in 36th place.
“It was a rough day for our GEICO Military Chevy,” Dillon said. “We were trying things to get ourselves back on the lead lap, or get some laps back. Just kind of snake bitten all race and then apparently, the day was kind of doomed from the start.”
After the Charlotte race, Dillon unofficially sits 22nd in driver’s standings, ready to rebound next week.
“We’ve had a great year so far, we’ll go on to Dover and be strong there,” Dillon said.
No. 19 Daniel Suarez
Suarez started 20th in his first Cup Series start at Charlotte. At the conclusion of the first segment Suarez was in 16th position, the second highest running rookie behind Erik Jones.
Suarez continued to battle after the rain delay with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin to crack the top-10 for valuable stage points at the midway point, but fell just short, finishing 12th. In Stage 3, Suarez battled on the restart on lap 293 to finish eighth, picking up three stage points.
Suarez ultimately finished the race in 11th. It is his fifth consecutive top-20 finish.
“The guys did a good job working on the car and tuning up the car and we had a top-10 car and we ended up one place under that,” Suarez said.
After Charlotte, Suarez sits 19th in points, 10 points back of fellow rookie Erik Jones.
No. 23 Gray Gaulding
After starting 32nd, Gaulding fell a lap down early and finished the first segment the same as where he started. Steadily in the middle of the pack, the 19-year-old from Colonial Heights, Virginia finished Stage 2 in 25th, two laps down. He went on to finish 26th in the third segment.
The BK Racing driver eventually finished 27th, seven laps down. This is Gaulding’s second best finish of his rookie campaign. After Charlotte, he sits 36th in the standings.
Gaulding was unavailable for comment post-race.
No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started fifth in his first career Coke 600, his best starting position of the season. Jones ran into problems early as he received damage from the first caution of the race off the car of Jeffrey Earnhardt.
After a lengthy pit road stop to patch up the nose of the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Jones climbed the leaderboard, finishing Stage 1 in 13th.
After the rain delay the Byron, Michigan native continued to battle up front, finishing eighth in Stage 2, picking up three stage points in the process.
Jones continued to remain impressive in Stage 3, picking up an additional six stage points as he went on to finish fifth.
Ultimately, Jones was able to bring home his second top-10 of the season, finishing seventh. He was the highest finishing rookie in Sunday night’s race.
“It was a good night and a solid night,” Jones said. “This was what we needed after some tough races and tonight we just needed a good, solid finish so it was good to get a top-10. I think our car was a little bit better than that.”
Entering next week’s race at Dover International Speedway next week, Jones ranks 18th in driver’s standings.
No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started 40th, the lowest of the rookies after not getting through technical inspection in time to post a lap time in qualifying. LaJoie ran into problems on pit road, receiving a speeding penalty on lap 66.
After the speeding penalty, the BK Racing driver finished the first segment 34th, but rebounded in Stage 2 to finish 28th, the last car two laps down. LaJoie remained firmly in the mid 20’s throughout the night, finishing 25th in Stage 3.
However, engine trouble struck the hometown Kannapolis, North Carolina resident as he brought it home at his home track 31st. He sits 34th in driver’s standings.
LaJoie was unavailable for comment post-race, but he tweeted, “The motor thought it was a 500 mile race, then she quit. Had a solid top-25 tonight.”
Next week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the The Monster Mile.
Ryan Willard/The Racing Experts
ROOKIE FINISHES AT CHARLOTTE, RACE 12/36
7) Erik Jones
11) Daniel Suarez
27) Gray Gaulding (-7)
32) Corey LaJoie (-85)
36) Ty Dillon (-158)
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER CHARLOTTE, POINTS DEFICIT TO PLAYOFF CUTLINE
18) Erik Jones (-35)
19) Daniel Suarez (-45)
22) Ty Dillon (-66)
34) Corey LaJoie (-189)
35) Gray Gaulding (-210)
TOP FINISHING ROOKIES BY TRACK IN 2017:
1) Daytona; Corey LaJoie (24th)
2) Atlanta; Erik Jones (14th)
3) Las Vegas; Erik Jones (15th)
4) Phoenix; Daniel Suarez (7th)
5) Auto Club; Daniel Suarez (7th)
6) Martinsville; Erik Jones (12th)
7) Texas; Ty Dillon (17th)
8) Bristol; Ty Dillon (15th)
9) Richmond; Daniel Suarez (12th)
10) Talladega; Ty Dillon (13th)
11) Kansas; Daniel Suarez (7th)
12) Charlotte; Erik Jones (7th)