Rookie Report: Food City 500

By Dominic Aragon
April 25, 2017

All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 39 starters in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Monday.

The race was the eighth stop of 36 for the MENCS in 2017.

Below is a breakdown of each driver’s race weekend.

No. 13 Ty Dillon
With qualifying cancelled Friday from inclement weather, the starting lineup was set by owner’s points.

Dillon started 24th in his second career Cup Series start at Bristol.

The younger Dillon brother finished the first segment of the race (lap 125) 23rd, one lap down. Being the first driver one lap down at the conclusion of the segment, Dillon earned the free pass to get back on the lead lap.

Dillon finished the second stage (lap 250) in 23rd on the lead lap.

Dillon eventually finished the race on the lead lap in 15th, the highest finishing rookie for the second consecutive Cup Series race in 2017.

“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,” Dillon said.

“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.”

Unofficially, Dillon leaves Bristol 23rd in driver’s standings, 40 points behind a Chase-eligible position. 15th place in points Denny Hamlin currently holds the final Chase-eligible position with 184 overall points.

No. 19 Daniel Suarez
In his first Cup Series start at Bristol, Suarez started the race 23rd.

At the end of the first segment, Suarez was scored 21st on the lead lap. He finished the second segment 17th on the lead lap.

Suarez ultimately finished the race 18th, two laps down.

The 25-year-old driver will enter next weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway 22nd in driver’s points, 40 points behind the Chase cutline.

No. 23 Gray Gaulding
Gaulding started his first Cup Series race at Bristol 36th, the lowest of the rookies.

Gaulding was the first rookie to fall off the lead lap when leader Kyle Larson went around him on lap 20 while he was running 37th.

Gaulding finished the first stage 38th, seven laps down, and the second stage in 34th, nine laps down.

The BK Racing driver finished the race in 29th, 13 laps down, tying a Cup Series career-best finish. He will enter next weekend’s race 38th in points.

No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started his first Cup Series Bristol race in 14th, the highest of the rookies.

Running as high as second in the first stage, Jones finished the first stage in third place, earning eight stage points.

Jones finished the second stage in sixth, earning five more stage points.

While running eighth with 80 laps to go, Jones was involved in an incident with Gray Gaulding, ultimately cutting his tire and causing his car to hit the outside wall in Turn 3.

“We were side-by-side passing him and I don’t know if he got loose, but he got down into us about halfway down the backstretch and must have cut a tire; cut the right front,” Jones said.

“Pretty unfortunate, I thought we had a really good car and a car that if we could have got some track position and maybe got up front, I think we could have led some laps and had a shot at the win. I thought we were just as good as the 48 for the majority of the day.

“We’ll keep working on it and we have a good package to come back in the fall.”

Jones finished the race in 17th, one lap down.

After Bristol, Jones is ranked 12th in points as the only rookie holding a Chase-eligible position. He is 24 points above the Chase cutline.

No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started his 10th career Cup Series start and first at Bristol in 35th.

LaJoie was 30th, two laps down at the end of the first segment, and 30th at the conclusion of the second segment, three laps down.

The BK Racing driver finished the race 24th, three laps down, tying his career-best finish in the Cup Series.

LaJoie leaves Bristol 34th in driver’s standings, 128 points behind a Chase-eligible position.


Daniel Courson/The Racing Experts

Team Chevy
Toyota Racing

15) Ty Dillon
17) Erik Jones (-1 LAP)
18) Daniel Suarez (-2 LAPS)
24) Corey LaJoie (-3 LAPS)
29) Gray Gaulding (-13 LAPS)

12) Erik Jones (+24)
22) Daniel Suarez (-40)
23) Ty Dillon (-40)
34) Corey LaJoie (-128)
38) Gray Gaulding (-159)

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)

Which driver will finish highest at Richmond?
No. 13 Ty Dillon
No. 19 Daniel Suarez
No. 23 Gray Gaulding
No. 77 Erik Jones
No. 83 Corey LaJoie
Poll Maker