Rookie Report: GEICO 500
By Dominic Aragon
May 7, 2017
All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 40 starters in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday.
The race was the 10th stop of 36 for the MENCS in 2017.
Below is a breakdown of each driver’s race weekend.
No. 13 Ty Dillon
Dillon started 28th in his first official start in the Cup Series at Talladega. He was a relief driver for Tony Stewart in last year’s spring race at the superspeedway.
Dillon finished the first stage of the race in 24th. The Germain Racing driver elected not to pit under caution after the first stage, leading three laps before the start of the second stage. He finished the second stage in 16th.
During the third stage, Dillon was one of 18 drivers to have involvement in a lap 169 accident on the backstretch.
However, Dillon continued in the race, coming home with a 13th place result, a career-high finish.
“It was tough to find cars to stay with us today, but we were able to move our way into the top ten on a couple occasions and even get out front to lead a few GEICO 500 laps,” said Dillon, who was the highest finishing rookie in three of the last four races.
“The car was a little tight, but overall it was a strong day for this Germain Racing team.”
Unofficially, Dillon sits 22nd in driver’s standings, 42 points behind a playoff-eligible position. Trevor Bayne, ranked 16th in driver’s standings, currently holds the final playoff position with 223 points.
No. 19 Daniel Suarez
Suarez qualified seventh for his 10th career Cup Series race, the highest start of his career in the series.
Suarez, the highest starting rookie, finished the first stage 35th on the lead lap and the second stage in 17th on the lead lap.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ran as high as fourth during the race, eventually finishing 19th four his fourth consecutive top-20 finish.
Suarez will enter next weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway 21st in driver’s standings, 36 points behind a playoff-eligible position.
No. 23 Gray Gaulding
In his first career superspeedway start in any of NASCAR’s top-three touring series, Gaulding started 37th, the lowest of the rookies.
Gaulding finished 31st in the first stage and 32nd in the second stage.
The BK Racing driver was one of the 18 drivers involved in the lap 169 accident on the backstretch.
Gaulding was able to continue in the race, ultimately finishing 20th on the lead lap. The finish is the first time he has finished on the lead lap in a Cup Series race and the highest finish of his career.
“I can’t thank my guys, everybody enough,” Gaulding said post-race on social media. “Just what a blast, it's the most fun I've ever had, to be honest with you.”
Gaulding climbed two positions to 35th in driver’s standings after the race. He is 175 points behind a playoff-eligible position.
No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started 14th in his first Cup Series start at Talladega Superspeedway.
The Furniture Row Racing driver finished the first stage in tenth, earning one stage point. Jones earned two additional stage points with his ninth place finish at the conclusion of stage two.
Jones was one of 18 drivers involved in the lap 169 accident on the backstretch.
Damage sustained in the incident knocked Jones out of the race. He finished 33rd, his second consecutive DNF.
“I thought we had a pretty good car,” Jones said. “We ran up towards top 10 most of the day. Got up in the top five a few times and really think we would’ve had a shot to go up there and run well at the end, so I was kind of still hanging out. I was waiting for about 10 to go.
“They were starting to race pretty hard and unfortunately we got caught up in the wreck.”
Jones unofficially dropped four position in driver’s points to 20th in driver’s standings, 23 points behind a playoff-eligible spot.
No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started 36th in his first career Cup Series start at Talladega.
LaJoie pulled the No. 83 car behind the wall after completing three laps, eventually returning to the track eight laps down.
The BK Racing driver finished both stages one and two in 39th, eight laps down.
LaJoie finished the race 27th, eight laps down.
LaJoie will enter next weekend’s race at Kansas 34th in driver’s standings, 156 points behind a playoff-eligible position.
ROOKIE FINISHES AT TALLADEGA, RACE 10/36
13) Ty Dillon
19) Daniel Suarez
20) Gray Gaulding
27) Corey LaJoie (-8 LAPS)
33) Erik Jones (OUT)
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER TALLADEGA, POINTS DEFICIT TO PLAYOFF CUTLINE
20) Erik Jones (-23)
21) Daniel Suarez (-36)
22) Ty Dillon (-42)
34) Corey LaJoie (-156)
35) Gray Gaulding (-175)
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)