Rookie Report: Toyota Owners 400
By Dominic Aragon
April 30, 2017
All five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year candidates were among the 38 starters in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway Sunday.
The race was the ninth stop of 36 for the MENCS in 2017.
Below is a breakdown of each driver’s race weekend.
No. 13 Ty Dillon
Dillon started 24th in his first Cup Series start at Richmond.
At the conclusion of the first stage (lap 100), Dillon was 14th and at the conclusion of the second stage (lap 200), Dillon was ninth.
Dillon earned two stage points for finishing ninth in the second segment, the first time the driver had earned stage points in 2017. He was the only rookie to record stage points at Richmond.
During the third stage on lap 358, Dillon made contact with Clint Bowyer under caution, with Dillon sustaining damage to the left-rear fender.
Dillon finished the race in 26th on the lead lap.
“We really had a fast race car today, there’s no question,” Dillon said. “I hate it that we ended up damaged there at the end. I’m not sure how I could’ve avoided what happened there but the GEICO Chevy was really fast and we were able to gain some stage points today.”
Unofficially, Dillon leaves Richmond 23rd in driver’s standings, 44 points behind a Chase-eligible position. 15th place in points Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently holds the final Chase-eligible position with 201 overall points.
No. 19 Daniel Suarez
Qualifying 11th in his first Cup Series start at the raceway, Suarez was the highest starting rookie in the race.
By the end of the first segment, Suarez was 30th, one lap down; and at the end of the second segment, he was scored in 30th, two laps down.
Suarez was three laps down at one point, but earned a free pass and eventually made his way back to the lead lap.
The 25-year-old driver went on to finish 12th, the highest of the rookies.
“The first half of the race it was very tough,” Suarez said. “In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it’s just so difficult.
“You get behind one or two adjustments and then you get a lap down or two laps down and it’s very difficult to recover that. Luckily we got a lot of cautions right there at the end and I was able to overcome those laps down that I was down.
“Very proud of the team. They never give up. They were working hard on the race to try to make it better. I just feel like we have to work hard in the first third, first half of the race to try to stay with the rest of the guys.”
Unofficially, Suarez will enter next weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway 22nd in driver’s standings, 32 points behind the Chase cutline.
No. 23 Gray Gaulding
In his tenth career Cup Series start and first at Richmond, Gaulding started 31st.
Gaulding was one lap down in 36th after the first stage and two laps down in 32nd after the second stage.
The 19-year-old driver finished the race in 31st, two laps down. He moved up one position in points to 37th overall.
No. 77 Erik Jones
Jones started 20th in his first career Cup Series start at the raceway.
While running inside the top-25, Jones brought out the first caution of the race on lap five after a left-front tire issue sent Jones into the Turn 3 outside wall. Contact with Kasey Kahne on lap one may have caused the damage to Jones’ tire.
Jones finished 38th, last.
“We’ve been getting a lot of stage points and been running up front and should have had a lot of good finishes,” Jones said.
“And I think we had another good race car today, one that definitely could have got up into the top-10, got us some more stage points and got a good finish out of it, but the guys got to–there’s got to be more respect showing.
“I mean, we’re lap one and we’re three-wide running people into the wall. It’s just really frustrating.”
Jones fell to 16th in driver’s standings, eight points behind a Chase-eligible position, entering next weekend’s race at Talladega.
No. 83 Corey LaJoie
LaJoie started 34th in his first start in NASCAR’s premiere series at Richmond.
LaJoie finished the first stage in 34th, one lap down, and the second stage in 34th, three laps down.
The BK Racing driver finished the race in 32nd, four laps down.
“Had a RF (right-front) tire go down under green which put us behind for the entire race,” LaJoie said on social media post-race. “P32 and learned a bunch.”
LaJoie will enter next weekend’s race at Talladega 34th in driver’s points, 144 points behind a Chase-eligible position.
ROOKIE FINISHES AT RICHMOND, RACE 9/36
12) Daniel Suarez
26) Ty Dillon
31) Gray Gaulding (-2 LAPS)
32) Corey LaJoie (-4 LAPS)
38) Erik Jones (OUT)
UNOFFICIAL POINTS POSITION AFTER RICHMOND, POINTS DEFICIT TO CHASE CUTLINE
16) Erik Jones (-8)
22) Daniel Suarez (-32)
23) Ty Dillon (-44)
34) Corey LaJoie (-144)
37) Gray Gaulding (-170)
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)