Rookie Report: Coke Zero 400
By Zachary Lange
July 2, 2017
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Four rookies attempted the 59th annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
All four finished in the top 20, and three of the four rookies led laps during a record setting amount of cautions on Saturday night.
Below is a breakdown of how each fared.
NO. 13 TY DILLON
The No. 13 GEICO Military Chevy began the race in 34th, and started to make his climb through the field towards the midway mark of Stage 1.
By the end of the first stage, Dillon had cracked the top 15 in 13th.
Dillon continued his rise through the field, collection three stage points by finishing eighth in the second stage.
As the final stage was nearing an end, Dillon found the lead on lap 151, leading for a total of seven laps. But on the final restart, Dillon was shifted out of the racing line and finished unofficially in 16th.
“That is two close ones and if you keep getting these close ones, you will get one eventually,” Dillon said. “We work hard every week but not every week are we contending for wins, but when it's our chance we make the most of it.
“So I am proud of the way we are growing as a team and we are leading a lot of laps any way we can. I just feel disappointed.”
NO. 19 DANIEL SUAREZ
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez started in 20th Saturday night, and finished 17th.
Suarez remained in the middle of the pack through most of Stage 1, and finished the first stage in the 18th position.
On lap 49, a near wreck forced Suarez to jet down pit road in avoidance but he did not receive a penalty or lose a lap, but the incident put him on the tail end of the lead lap until a caution at lap 60 flew.
By the end of Stage 2 and a bunch up of the field, Suarez was able to climb to 14th.
After varying pit strategies on lap 92 left Suarez with the lead. He continued to lead the field until lap 101 for a total of 10 laps, he led one additional time on lap 138.
On the final overtime restart, Suarez was trapped on the bottom groove of the track, unable to move ahead.
“The race was good and we ran definitely much better than where we finished,” Suarez said. “Just all the starts and restarts, those last two restarts we were on the bottom and it wasn’t going anywhere. Just a little bad luck there at the end of the race.”
NO. 23 COREY LAJOIE
The BK Racing driver is back after an absence at Sonoma and started the night in the 36th position, and opted to pit during the competition caution. After stage one, LaJoie was 28th. After stage two, LaJoie was 22nd.
Staying near the top 15 for the majority of the final stage, LaJoie was able to bring it home in a season and career-best 11th.
LaJoie could not be reached for comment post-race.
NO. 77 ERIK JONES
Erik Jones was the highest qualified rookie driver in Saturday night’s in 17th. At the drop of the green, Jones stayed near the middle of the pack until he pit near the conclusion of stage one, giving up his track position and finishing stage two in 35th.
But by the middle of the second stage, Jones was able to climb to the top of the podium and lead nine laps. At the conclusion of stage two, Jones was scored in the 18th position.
In the final stage, Jones nearly had his day soiled by a late race spin to force overtime, but he remained on the final lap with minimal damage and was able to fight his way into the top 10 to finish ninth.
“It seemed like wherever you got to, you had to stay there and made it kind of tough to move forward or backwards,” Jones said post-race. “It seemed like up until the end of the race you couldn’t do a whole lot. Just made it tough all night to get teamed up with everyone else.
“Still got a decent finish out of it, top 10 at a superspeedway so that’s a good finish and some momentum for next week.”
Did not start.
Next week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to the Bluegrass State and tackles the 1.5 mile Kentucky Speedway.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images NASCAR Media Group
ROOKIE FINISHES AT DAYTONA, RACE 17/36
9) Erik Jones
11) Corey LaJoie
16) Ty Dillon
17) Daniel Suarez
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER DAYTONA, POINTS DEFICIT TO PLAYOFF CUTLINE
17) Erik Jones (-59)
18) Daniel Suarez (-91)
23) Ty Dillon (-148)
34) Corey LaJoie (INELIGIBLE)
35) Gray Gaulding (INELIGIBLE)
TOP FINISHING ROOKIES BY TRACK
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)
13) Dover; Daniel Suarez (6th)
14) Pocono; Erik Jones (3rd)
15) Michigan; Erik Jones (13th)
16) Sonoma; Daniel Suarez (16th)
17) Daytona; Erik Jones (9th)