UPDATE: Rookie Report: QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500

By Taylor Goins

March 9, 2017

(NOTE: Report now reflects the 35 point penalty handed down to A.J. Allmendinger) All five of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 39 starters in the QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500 Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Below is a breakdown of how each fared.

No. 13 Ty Dillon

Dillon was able to bring his No. 13 Chevrolet home in 15th place on the lead lap. The 15th place finish was a welcome rebound for Dillon, who limped home to a 30th place finish in the season opener at Daytona last week.

Dillon started the race the 26th spot and had to navigate through traffic all afternoon to secure the top-fifteen finishing position.

The 15th place finish was a career best for Dillon at Atlanta in three attempts at the Hampton, GA speedway, and puts him in the highest in points among the rookies at 25th.

“It was a solid day for our GEICO Chevy,” Dillon said. “We got in a little bit of a hole early and got ourselves a couple of laps down, but [crew chief] Bootie [Barker] made some good calls there at the end to do the wave around.  

“Our car was strong, so a strong car kind of overcame some mistakes from us early.  I’m proud of our guys, we really fought hard to get 15th and a solid day for the real first race of the season I feel like for us.  

“Proud of the start we got and we will just keep trudging along.”

No. 19 Daniel Suarez

Suarez started this weekend at Atlanta from 21st place on the grid and finished the race there as well. While not a bad result by any means, Suarez had hoped to erase the memories of a 29th place debut at Daytona with a stronger showing at Atlanta. Given this is only his second career MENCS start, though, none of his fans should hit the panic button. Suarez has proven that he is a quick learner, given his Xfinity title last year, and should soon improve upon his current 31st place position in the MENCS standings.

No. 23 Gray Gaulding

Driving the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, Gray Gaulding had a difficult day at Atlanta, finishing in 37th place, which is the lowest out of all five drivers who are competing for ROTY.

Gaulding completed 253 of the scheduled 325 laps before he was forced to retire due to engine failure. The result was disappointing for Gaulding, who was looking to improve upon his weekend due to getting off to a shaky start in qualifying as well by starting 31st.

“Yeah, it’s just one of those deals, it’s part of racing,” he said. “You’re going to have blown engines, blown tires and wreck and it’s all part of the deal, but I thought we had a solid run going.

“We had a couple bad breaks on pit road, but my fault. I sped on pit road one time, but I’m going to live and learn. I felt like I passed a lot of good cars.

“We beat some cars that – we were in front of some cars that usually should be in front of us. Everybody knows who they are. Unfortunate, but I feel like BK Racing, Dr. Pepper, can’t thank them guys enough.

“Unfortunate how it ended, but it’s part of racing.”

No. 77 Erik Jones

Erik Jones had the best day of all five rookies Sunday at Atlanta, bringing home his No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota in a very solid 14th place.

The top-fifteen result did not come easy for Jones, though, as he had to start all the way back in the 23rd position. Jones wasted no time making his way through the field and ran a good portion of the race inside the top-ten, even finishing in eighth place during the second stage.

The finish was enough to bump Jones up to second place in the ROTY standings, and was a pleasant day considering that the 2015 Camping World Truck Series Champion had his season-opener at Daytona ruined due to an accident.

“I thought we had a seventh to ninth place car probably most of the day – ran around there, maybe a little bit farther back,” Jones said. “Just last restart we came in, put tires on and just got super tight. Not sure why.

“Didn’t really know. Can’t really figure it out, so it’s going to be tough to figure out why, but it’s unfortunate.

“I wish we could have went up there and finished I feel like where we deserved, where our car was capable of. Just didn’t work out.”

No. 83 Corey LaJoie

Making his first ever start at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Corey LaJoie finished the QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500 in 34th place. The entire weekend did not go as planned for the No. 83 BK Racing team, as they qualified in 32nd place and did not make up as much ground as planned during Sunday’s race.

In fact, the Dustless Blasting sponsored Toyota was the first rookie to go a lap down.

Early season struggles do not necessarily spell doom-and-gloom, though. Even though LaJoie is currently sitting at 33rd place in the MENCS standings, he is only eight points behind seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

This proves that two races do not make or break a season, and LaJoie (along with our entire 2017 rookie class) have plenty of time to capture momentum heading into Las Vegas.

Rookie finishes after Atlanta, Race 1/36
14) No. 77 Erik Jones
15) No. 13 Ty Dillon
21) No. 19 Daniel Suarez (-2 LAPS)
34) No. 83 Corey LaJoie (-12 LAPS)
37) No. 23 Gray Gualding (OUT)

Unofficial points position after Atlanta/Points deficit to Chase cutline
25) Ty Dillon (-7)
29) Erik Jones (-11)
30) Daniel Suarez (-13)
33) Corey LaJoie (-22)
39) Gray Gaulding (-37)

Daniel Courson/The Racing Experts
NASCAR Media Group