Rookie Report: Kobalt 400

By Dominic Aragon and David Swope
March 12, 2017

LAS VEGAS—All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 39 starters in the Kobalt 400 Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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

Below is a breakdown of how each fared.

No. 13 Ty Dillon
In his 21st career MENCS start and first series race at Las Vegas, Dillon started the race 24th.

Dillon led two laps under a cycle of green flag pit stops during the second stage pf the race.

Dillon eventually finished 21st, his second consecutive lead lap finish.

“We battled all day… we just didn’t have all the speed that we needed to keep up with all these guys,” Dillon said.

Unofficially, Dillon gained two positions in driver’s points and unofficially sits 23rd, 15 points behind the Chase cutline. Paul Menard holds the final Chase-eligible position, 16th, with 62 points.

No. 19 Daniel Suarez
Suarez started 11th on Sunday, a career best starting position in his third MENCS start.

Suarez ran as high as 11th, eventually finishing on the lead lap in 20th. The result was a career best and the first time the driver has finished on the leap lap in a MENCS race.

“I feel like we have a lot of work to do,” Suarez said. “For some reason, we haven’t figured exactly my balance, how I like the racecar. We’re either too loose or too tight, and I wasn’t able to be fast on the long run.”

Suarez gained two positions in driver’s points and sits 28th, 20 points behind the Chase cutline, entering next weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

No. 23 Gray Gaulding
Gaulding started 35th in his fourth career start, the lowest of the rookies.

Gaulding was the second ROTY candidate to go one lap down, before the lap 50 mark.

Gaulding was given a pass-through penalty under a cycle of green flag pit stops on lap 126 for speeding entering pit road.

Gaulding eventually finished 34th, seven laps down. The result was a career best and the first time he was running at the finish of a MENCS race.

“I’m a rookie, I’m here to take in everything I can, ‘cause this place, we come back and race twice,” he said. “But yeah, it was good to get the career best.

“Not too excited, we can do better, just a few mistakes I did today on pit road. I got caught speeding and we just kind of lost the handling of the car.”

Gaulding will enter next weekend’s race at Phoenix 38th in points.

No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started his sixth career start and first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the MENCS in eighth place, the highest starting rookie.

“We had a good car, we just unfortunately didn’t do a great job in the pits all day,” Jones said. “We lost spots every time we came down pit road, and just had to work to get them back every time.”

Jones peaked inside the top-five during the race, running as high as fifth.

Jones finished on the lead lap in 15th, the highest finishing rookie.

“That’s what we’re capable of, we know we are capable of, we’ve just got to make sure we execute as the race goes on,” Jones said.

Jones unofficially picks up eight spots in points and will enter next week’s race at Phoenix 20th in points, 13 points behind the Chase cutline.

No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started the Kobalt 400, his fifth career start, in 34th.

Making his first MENCS start at Las Vegas, LaJoie was running 36th on the lead lap on lap 17 when he brought out the first caution of the race.

A right-rear tire issue caused the Turn 2 contact with the wall and LaJoie came to a stop below the apron on the backstretch. The first car out of the race, he completed 16 laps and finished 39th.

LaJoie told The Racing Experts he was “all good” after the accident.

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the thing jumped sideways, like a right-rear [tire] went down or something,” he said. “I tried to just correct it to keep it straight to get to pit road and over-corrected.”

The result dropped LaJoie three positions to 36th in driver’s points entering Phoenix.

Rookie finishes after Las Vegas, Race 3/36
15) No. 77 Erik Jones
20) No. 19 Daniel Suarez
21) No. 13 Ty Dillon
34) No. 23 Gray Gaulding (-7 LAPS)
39) No. 83 Corey LaJoie (OUT)

Unofficial points position after Las Vegas/Points deficit to Chase cutline
20) Erik Jones (-13)
23) Ty Dillon (-15)
28) Daniel Suarez (-20)
36) Corey LaJoie (-45)
39) Gray Gaulding (-58)

Daniel Courson/The Racing Experts

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