Rookie Report: Overton’s 400
Suarez and Jones lead the way at “The Tricky Triangle”
By Justin Melillo
July 30, 2017
LONG POND, Pa.—All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 38 starters in the Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway Sunday. It was a relatively quiet day for the rookies, as all five finished with little to no incident.
Below is a breakdown of how each fared.
NO. 13 TY DILLON
The No. 13 Germain Racing Chevy had a relatively uneventful Sunday at the track, flirting with the lead lap for most of the race.
Ty Dillon started the race in 30th and worked his way up to finish 25th at the end of stage one, one lap off the lead lap.
He took the wave around and was back on the lead lap for stage two, and trying to gain some points by staying out with three laps to go, he came up short, crossing the line in 11th to end the stage.
Stage three was another solid stage for Dillon, and even though he wound up a lap down at the end of the day, he came home in 17th position.
Dillon was unavailable for comment post race. He sits 24th in the point standings, 234 points behind the playoff cutline.
NO. 15 GRAY GAULDING
Gaulding was a last minute addition to the Overton’s 400 lineup, replacing Reed Sorenson who was originally listed to drive the No. 15 Premium Motorsports Toyota.
Gaulding started off in 35th position and rode around cleanly for the entirety of the race. He finished 33rd at the end of stage one, and 30th at the end of stage two, both times one lap off the lead lap.
In stage three, Gaulding lost two more laps to the leaders, and wound up coming home in 31st position, three laps down.
Gaulding was unavailable for comment after the race. He is 35th in the point standings.
NO. 19 DANIEL SUAREZ
Starting the day in eighth position, Suarez and his team had another strong showing at “The Tricky Triangle”.
The strategy for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota sacrificed stage bonus points, but the end result was a seventh place finish, the highest finishing rookie of the day.
In stage one, Suarez was as high as second place, staying out as long as possible, hoping the strategy would play out. The result was an 18th place stage finish.
With three laps remaining in stage two, Suarez was one of the many to come down pit road for service as a strategy play to not have to pit during the stage break. At the end of the stage, Suarez was 23rd.
In the final stage, Suarez worked his way up as high as sixth, and ultimately came home in seventh.
“I think it was a good day,” Suarez said. “At the beginning, we were a little bit off. Just like always, these guys never give up working on the race car. Very proud of this group and we'll look to keep this momentum going.
“Hopefully, we can make the playoffs. You never know when it is going to happen. This team is working very hard, and I feel like we're making improvements in our race team and getting better and just finding more speed. Get more comfortable with our package. I think that's something important.”
Suarez is 18th in points, 130 points behind the playoff cutline.
NO. 23 COREY LAJOIE
LaJoie returned to Pocono Raceway looking to better his previous finish of 28th, and was able to do so, coming home 25th.
The driver of the No. 23 BK Racing Toyota started the day in 34th position, but utilized wave arounds and the timing of cautions in stage two to be on the lead lap for a majority of the day.
After stage one, LaJoie was 31st place, one lap down, but during the second stage, he took a timely wave around to get back onto the lead lap. LaJoie came across the line in 19th at the end of stage two.
stage three ran caution free, and LaJoie once again fell down a lap. However, he maintained his position on the track and when he crossed the Start/Finish line for the final time, he was still only one lap down, in 25th position. In June, LaJoie finished the race three laps down.
“I thought we had a pretty good race,” LaJoie said. “Our car drove well on the shorter runs. Longer runs really weren't our friend.
“We started losing some grip more from the back than the front. But it was a good rebound after Indy last week. It was a short day for us there.”
LaJoie is 34th in points.
NO. 77 ERIK JONES
It was another solid run for Jones at Pocono, starting the day in ninth, leading a few laps in stage one and stage three, and coming home in eighth at the end of the day.
stage one started in a similar fashion to earlier this season, where Kyle Busch pitted from the lead and handed it over to the driver of the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
Jones stayed out to lead three laps in the stage, then pitted for service. At the end of 50 laps, Jones crossed the line in 13th position.
In stage two, Jones was part of the pit party with three laps to go, which gave up possible stage points, and landed him in 24th position at the stage break.
Jones capitalized on late race fresh tires in stage three, staying out to lead another lap, on lap 141. The new tires helped him reach into the top 10, but were not enough to propel the rookie any higher than eighth place.
“We just need track position most of the day,” Jones said post race. “We kind of got towards the front and then had a bad pit stop, had a loose wheel, and put us way behind. Just kind of had to work back from that after that point.
“The Sirius XM Camry had okay speed, but the handling wasn’t great all day, I was kind of fighting it with no rear grip.”
Jones sits 16th in points, but is 125 points behind Matt Kenseth for the playoff cutoff line.
Dominic Aragon and John Haverlin contributed to this report.
Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts
ROOKIE FINISHES AT POCONO, RACE 21/36
7) Daniel Suarez
8) Erik Jones
17) Ty Dillon (-1 LAP)
25) Corey LaJoie (-1 LAP)
31) Gray Gaulding (-3 LAPS)
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER POCONO, POINTS DEFICIT TO PLAYOFF CUTLINE
16) Erik Jones (-125)
18) Daniel Suarez (-130)
24) Ty Dillon (-234)
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)
18) Kentucky; Erik Jones (6th)
19) New Hampshire; Daniel Suarez (6th)
20) Indianapolis; Daniel Suarez (7th)
21) Pocono; Daniel Suarez (7th)