Rookie Report: STP 500
By Dominic Aragon
April 2, 2017
All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 38 starters in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday.
The race was the sixth stop of 36 for the series in 2017.
Below is a breakdown of each driver’s race weekend.
No. 13 Ty Dillon
With qualifying rained out Friday, the starting lineup was set by the 2017 owner’s points.
Dillon started 23rd in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville, finishing the first stage (lap 130) 11th on the lead lap after securing the first free pass of the race and the second stage (lap 260) 21st, one lap down. He ran as high as fourth place.
Dillon eventually finished 22nd, one lap down.
“We struggled towards the end of the first stage and went a lap down, but we were able to get the balance how we needed it and started to pick up speed,” he said. “But, in the nature of short-track racing, the leader catches the back of the back so quickly and keeps putting cars a lap down.
“It seemed like every time a caution came out, the leader had just caught a car in the back and knocked us out of the free pass spot. And, it certainly didn't help to be caught up in someone else's wreck there towards the end.”
Dillon dropped two positions in driver’s standings and unofficially sits 24th overall, 38 points behind a Chase-eligible position. Trevor Bayne currently holds the final playoff position at 15th in driver’s standings with 140 points.
No. 19 Daniel Suarez
On paper, Suarez started 19th, but had to drop to the rear of the field at the start because of using a backup car after a Friday practice crash and not turning a lap in it prior to qualifying.
Suarez was scored 30th, one lap down at the conclusion of the first stage.
Suarez received nose and left-front damage on the restart of the second stage, with the driver having to pit under green flag conditions.
At the conclusion of the second stage, Suarez was running 35th, four laps down.
Suarez also received damage to his racecar during the race’s seventh caution on lap 289.
Suarez eventually finished 32nd, 11 laps down. He was the lowest finishing rookie and the result was his lowest finish of 2017.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver dropped two positions in driver’s standings to 21st overall, 33 points behind a Chase-eligible position.
No. 23 Gray Gaulding
Gaulding started the race 37th, the lowest of the rookies.
Gaulding, the only rookie to have made a prior start at Martinsville in NASCAR’s premiere series, was 32nd at the conclusion of the first stage one lap down and 32nd, three laps down, at the conclusion of the second stage. He ran as high as 24th.
Gaulding spun in Turn 2, bringing out the race’s ninth caution on lap 309.
The 19-year-old driver finished 29th, five laps down, a career high finish.
“Today was a great rebound for our team after the west coast swing, now let's get after it at [Texas],” Gaulding said on Twitter post-race.
He gained one position and sits 38th in driver’s standings entering next weekend’s race at Texas.
No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started 15th, the highest of the rookies.
Jones was scored 17th at the end of the first stage and eighth at the end of the second stage, earning a total of three stage points.
A left-front tire rub while running on the lead lap during the third stage around lap 383 forced the driver to pit under green flag conditions during the third stage.
Earning the free pass under the race’s 13th caution, Jones eventually finished 12th, the highest of the rookies, on the lead lap. The result was his fifth consecutive lead lap finish.
“It was a lot of ups and downs,” Jones said about his race day. “I thought at one point we had a pretty good car. We were running up in the top five and as the day went on we kind of lost the handle on it, got tight in the center and just never could really get it back.
“Right up there at the end we went two laps down. We had to pit under green. We had a tire rub and after that the 5-hour Energy Camry got caught up in an accident, but honestly that was the best we were was after that.
“Not exactly sure where we came home, but that’s a good recovery for us. So [12th] isn’t the day we wanted, but definitely we’ll take it for the first time here at Martinsville.”
Jones remains the only rookie inside the playoffs at 14th overall on the Chase grid and 13th in driver’s standings. He has a five point cushion on the Chase cutline heading into Texas.
No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started 35th in his eighth career MENCS start.
LaJoie was the first rookie to go one lap down around the lap 32 mark.
LaJoie was 34th, one lap down at the end of stage one and 33rd, three laps down, at the end of stage two.
LaJoie eventually finished 28th, four laps down, his best finish since the Daytona 500.
The BK Racing driver picked up one position in driver’s standings and sits 34th overall, 106 points behind the Chase cutline.
NASCAR Media Group
ROOKIE FINISHES AT MARTINSVILLE, RACE 6/36
12) Erik Jones
22) Ty Dillon (-1 LAP)
28) Corey LaJoie (-4 LAPS)
29) Gray Gaulding (-5 LAPS)
32) Daniel Suarez (-11 LAPS)
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER MARTINSVILLE, POINTS DEFICIT TO CHASE CUTLINE
15) Erik Jones (+7)
19) Daniel Suarez (-12)
23) Ty Dillon (-27)
35) Corey LaJoie (-89)
39) Gray Gaulding (-108)
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)