Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign in Cup gets off to rough start

Photo by Harold Hinson

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The first day of school was hard on the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kids.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders of Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Erik Jones finished 29th, 30th and 39th, respectively in Sunday’s Daytona 500, their first race of the campaign.

For Suarez, who replaced Carl Edwards in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota, his troubles started early. On Lap 17, he missed his pit box as he came for service. During that same stop, he was caught speeding on pit road and had to do a pass through.

“I just don’t feel like I did a really good job in the first part of the race,” said Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity champion. “I made a lot of mistakes. I just wasn’t able to slow down enough to get into my (pit) box and then I made a couple mistakes there.”

Suarez was forced to pit while the pits were closed and served another penalty – going to the tail end of the field – after an incident on Lap 142. He did pick up nine points during the season-opening event that brought out the caution flag eight times and saw Kurt Busch win his first Daytona 500.

“We were able to overcome those mistakes and put ourselves back into the game,” Suarez said. “And actually I was so ready to race because I had been taking care of my car a lot, a lot. I was asking my team, possibly, it’s tim­­e to race? It’s time to race? I guess it was still too early.

Ty Dillon, who is in the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet vacated by Casey Mears, had his day end after a Lap 142 incident. He was once the beneficiary of the free pass – the first car a lap down – on Lap 136.

“Just a bummer because I felt like I had a fast-enough car to get back up there and have a good finish and capitalize on a day that went sour early,” said Dillon, the younger brother of Austin Dillon. “But, we had a fast GEICO Chevy unfortunately it didn’t work out for us. I was really proud of my guys for working hard throughout the day to get the car back to where it is and they proved their toughness and we will move on to Atlanta and go race.”

As for Jones, he got caught up in his Toyota affiliate Kyle Busch’s wreck on Lap 103. Busch lost a tire and Jones had nowhere to go in a wreck that also took out Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were just kind of riding around and trying to bide our time there,” said Jones, driver of the newly formed No. 77 Toyota team for Furniture Row Racing. “I think we were going to cycle out in a good spot and unfortunately I don’t know if Kyle (Busch) cut a tire or what but when we were cycling through those three cars there he just got loose into (turn) three and lost it and I got in the side­ of him. Couldn’t do much about it.”

“The 5-hour Energy Camry was good. We spent most of the day kind of working our way up through and biding our time and we were finally in the position we wanted to be there to be cycled out with some JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates and our Furniture Row teammate. Nothing we could do. Go onto Atlanta and try to get a better result.”


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