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Cup rookies in close points battle going into All-Star break

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The 2017 rookie class in the NASCAR Cup Series is noteworthy to say the least.

The drivers competing for Rookie of the Year honors are 2016 Xfinity champion Daniel Suarez, 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and eight-time Xfinity winner Erik Jones, Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon (brother to Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon) an BK Racing’s Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding.

After 11 races in the season and the All-Star weekend looming, the competition between three of the five drivers is narrow.

Following Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway, Suarez, Jones and Dillon are 19th, 20th and 21st in the point standings.

Suarez and Jones, former teammates in the Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing, are tied with 217 points. That is 258 points behind leader Kyle Larson.

Jones is coming off a brutal race where his No. 77 Toyota caused three separate cautions. After spinning on his own twice, the third accident occurred when Dillon tagged Jones’ left-rear quarter panel exiting Turn 4 and sent Jones sliding into the infield. He finished 22nd.

Suarez had a quietly impressive night. He finished seventh for the third time this year. He’s the only rookie with multiple top 10s.

Ty Dillon is 13 points behind the Toyota drivers.

After spinning himself early in the race, Dillon placed 14th at Kansas. Outside a DNF in the Daytona 500, Dillon has finished on the lead lap in all but one race (Martinsville).

Meanwhile, Corey LaJoie is the only other rookie to start all 11 races so far. The son of former Xfinity champion Randy LaJoie, he is 34th in the standings with 77 points. He placed 27th at Kansas and has yet to finish on the lead lap this season.

Gaulding has started in 10 of 11 races. He is 36th in points with 51 points after finishing 34th at Kansas.

All five rookies are outside the top 16 in the standings, meaning they would not be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.

All five drivers will try to qualify for the All-Star Race via the Monster Energy Open or by the fan vote this weekend.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie’s season so far.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Daniel Suarez, No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Points Position: 19th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: Three
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 17.4
Best finish: Seventh (Phoenix, Auto Club, Kansas)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Erik Jones, No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota

Points Position: 20th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: One
Laps Led: Two
Avg. Finish: 21.1
Best finish: Eighth (Phoenix)
DNFs: Three

 

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Ty Dillon, No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet

Points Position: 21st

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: Six
Avg. Finish: 18.8
Best finish: 13th (Talladega)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Corey LaJoie, No. 83 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 34th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 30.5
Best finish: 24th (Daytona 500, Bristol)
DNFs: Two

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Gray Gaulding, No. 23 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 36th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 32.1
Best finish: 20th (Talladega)
DNFs: Three

 

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What Drivers Said after Kansas Cup race

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Here is what drivers were saying after Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup race at Kansas Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. — Winner: “That kid (Ryan Blaney) is good, man. He’s going to win a ton of races. He’s really talented and their cars are fast right now. You do 10 restarts, eight of them you get right, two of them you screw up. You just hope the ones you screw up aren’t for the win. Today, we were able to get those ones right when it mattered. You know what can I say, just an awesome team effort.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “We caught a couple breaks there on those restarts and made the most of them. That was good. We had a really great Freightliner Elite Support Ford, just kept getting caught in adversity there. We worked our way through it. It stinks we finished second and still lost points because we didn’t get those stage points. All in all, we had a really fast Ford and have a lot to be proud of. We will move on to the next week.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 3rd: “It was a solid night. Our Busch Light Ford was fast and we were able to come through the field and do what we needed to do.”

RYAN BLANEY — Finished 4th: “We weren’t very good on the long run. I felt that we had a great short run car tonight, and I thought that was going to play right into our hands at the end. (Martin Truex Jr.) got us on that restart somehow. I don’t know. I was super loose there on the last restarts and (Truex) got me spinning my tires a little bit. It kind of stinks. I think that it says a lot about this team to go out and lead some laps and go have a shot and win races.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “It just seemed like other guys got better than us. We tried to adjust on our car and it never really made it better. The M&M’s Camry was fast when the sun was out. We were pretty quick up there riding the high side and doing a good job. We won the first segment and then the second segment I thought we were – had a shot to win that one as well. I think we were third in that one and once it got dark out, we just kind of lost it. Actually, other guys just got faster. The delta just got greater where those guys picked up a lot of speed and we didn’t.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 6th: “The early parts of the race I thought we were okay, not great, but I thought we were like a fourth- or fifth-place car and I got into the wall on one of those later restarts after that big wreck. I just got really tight and it took off and hit the wall. Then my car was pretty tight afterwards, so I’m sure some aerodynamic issues there, but still recovered for a decent finish there. The restarts weren’t really working out for me there the last handful of them. It seemed like at the beginning of the race I could pass people no problem on restarts. There at the end, my line just kept getting choked down and stuff, but sixth place is still a good day for our Target team. The No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) finished really well so that is not great for us because I would like to be leading the points here in a few months. Still in all a good day.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ– Finished 7th: “Very proud of the way that the car worked the entire race. Scott (Graves, crew chief) and the guys they did a very good job. We had a top-10 car and that’s exactly where we ended up. Very happy for the performance of the car and looking forward to keep digging, keep working and keep learning for next weekend.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 8th: “So, we had a really good night. We had a hard time in the pits tonight. I’m not sure if something with the set-up of the car, but we struggled in the pits, but overall, we had a really fast McDonald’s Chevy. We were pretty good on restarts, which was important, and I’m really happy to finish eighth because we restarted like 20th or something with two or three to go. It was a good finish.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “That just wasn’t very good tonight. We were kind of off all weekend. Definitely off in the race. I started off good and we were just down on rear grip. I fought loose the whole time I was out there and it seemed like everything we were doing — we were doing some fundamentally different things to try to tighten the car up. It changes the aero balance of the car and I am not too sure. Maybe we learned something tonight.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 10th: “That was a hard-fought 10th-place finish. If you’d told me I would finish 10th after practice I would have probably kissed you on the forehead. That wasn’t a good practice for us and we still qualified 16th. It is funny how expectations change. A year ago, I would have been pumped for a 10th and now it is what we should be doing. We are getting better. Our potential is better. If we can finish 10th on a weekend like this, when we get the cars where we need them we can do business. I appreciate the hard work and execution by my team tonight.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 13th: “You know it’s tough on pit road and I would have to go back and watch it, but obviously, Chase (Elliott) took two tires there. I was following the No. 88 into the box, so I couldn’t see the No. 24 coming out at all and by the time we made contact he was at my left rear. I just didn’t see him coming in, and I don’t think his crew chief knew I was coming in either because he sent him when both the No. 88 and myself were turning into the box right in front of him. So, it just happens on pit road. It definitely wasn’t anything that I felt like I could have prevented because I didn’t even see him coming out of the box. Unfortunate I know because we got a lot of damage and obviously, it took him out for the day too. But, good recovery, everybody at LFR has been working really hard.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 14th: “Man, did this team fight hard. We struggled in the first two stages to find the perfect balance. We spun when we stayed out with old tires, but we didn’t get any damage and were able to recover. It started coming to us there in the final stage, but it was just impossible to pass cars. We really needed track position that we just didn’t have. We picked up some spots at the end with the cautions though and brought home a solid top-15 finish. We have a lot of notes to take back with us on our intermediate-track program. There is still some work to do, but we’ll get there.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 15th: “The guys did a great job tonight. We had good pit stops and we had a good car. After the red flag the car just got really loose for whatever reason. We had a good run though until that point.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 20th: “For whatever reason, the car had a lot of vibration issues. We had some loose wheels. I thought we had one early in the race, but it is questionable whether it was, but it was shaking pretty bad. We had a lot of vibrations late in the race and one in particular that was real serious. You know it’s just a judgement call whether you stay out there and the wheel comes off or you come in and get it tightened up. I don’t think we had any loose wheels after that. I don’t think we had only but one loose wheel tonight. Looking back through our notes this is a track where we all kind of complain a lot about vibrations and thinking we have loose wheels when we don’t. I know a lot of guys tonight complained a lot about it, so if I would have thought about that and kind of known that in the heat of the moment I probably wouldn’t have stayed out on the track, but we had about a 10th- to a 15th-place finish lined up.  And I came in for a vibration that wasn’t a loose wheel and we lost a lap and we got it back and ended up 20th. We had a much better car than that. Had good speed, liked the car and we had good speed in practice.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 36th: “We were having a really good race and having fun out there and had a lot of speed. I kinda felt like Wonder Woman for a little while. All I know is that I all of a sudden crashed. I definitely had a feeling it was the 22 and I am sure that the doctors in the medical center checking my neurological abilities are glad to know I was right that it was Joey. When he said he had a failure I can’t say it made me feel that much better in the moment. I am just frustrated for the lack of breaks I get. It seems like every time things are going better and something happens I get crashed or am in a crash. Especially a place like this, a brake rotor, when we are using 200-300 pounds of pressure seems odd. Unfortunately there were two of us that got collected and while I am okay, one of these times one of these really big accidents someone is not going to be okay. Aric (Almirola) is not okay and his car looked the best of everybody. You never know when it is going to be the wrong hit. I have a team that works hard and put another car on the track and I hope we are saving up for a really good run of good luck.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th:  I’m okay. Just saying a lot of prayers for Aric (Almirola) right now. A lot of us took a hard hit. Something broke on my car, I don’t know what it was. I noticed it as I was trying to go in. I tried to back it off but you’re going 215 (mph) and it’s hard to check up. The car just took a bit step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica (Patrick). I haven’t seen a replay yet, I don’t know what happened. I just hope everyone is okay. I hope Aric is alright. That’s the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It’s unfortunate for everyone.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 40th: “The bottom end of the motor just broke. We finally got the Caterpillar Chevrolet running well, not to where we needed to be, but better from how we started the race. We knocked a hole in the grill from a spring rubber or something. I watched what I hit, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Finally got enough tape on it so it would run warm and stick a little bit better and made a whole bunch of changes to the car, but just something in the motor broke, bottom end for sure, but I’m not really sure what happened first.”

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Who will win the fan vote to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race? You decide

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The polls are open and waiting for your vote.

It’s time choose your favorite driver to run in next weekend’s 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The race takes place May 20th and the single driver that earns the most fan votes will receive an automatic berth in the main event.

Voting is currently taking place.

Fans can vote once per day at NASCAR.com/fanvote, and votes shared on Facebook or Twitter count double. Also, don’t forget to use the hashtags #AllStarRace and #FanVote on social media.

Voting closes May 19 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Here’s the list of eligible drivers that are on the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race Fan Vote ballot:

AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chase Elliott, Timmy Hill, Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie, Michael McDowell, Paul Menard, Danica Patrick, David Ragan, Reed Sorenson, Daniel Suárez and Cole Whitt.

Ty Dillon, wife Haley, expecting first child

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Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon and his wife, Haley, took to Twitter Monday afternoon to announce they are expecting their first child.

The couple used a hot air balloon and their dog in the announcement photos, which declared the baby is scheduled to arrive in November.

The couple has been married since 2014.

Ty Dillon, 25, is a grandson of Richard Childress and is in his rookie season in the Cup Series driving the No. 13 Chevrolet. He is 22nd in the point standings.

Haley Dillon is a dancer for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

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What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

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Racing at Talladega — and how the race typically winds up — usually leaves NASCAR Cup drivers talking a lot.

And after Sunday’s Geico 500 was no different, as drivers had plenty to say about how the race wound up, being involved in a big wreck and more.

Here’s What Drivers Said:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished first: “We’ve been terrible for a long time. This year, every race we’re getting better and better. We knew that Talladega was a good racetrack for us. It’s been a good one in the past and I’m just glad we parked it for my buddy, Bryan Clauson. He was with us on that last lap. This Fifth Third Bank Ford was so fast today – qualified on the pole and got the win. I can’t say enough about the guys. It’s cool to have Jack Roush back in Victory Lane. This is cool. The closest race track to my hometown and the fans were out here this weekend.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished second: “I thought it was super hard to pass today. I don’t know how everybody else felt. Until the tires wore out and the cars started sliding around, it was just three wide, and there really wasn’t anywhere to go. I actually raced with Kyle (teammate Kyle Larson) in about 30th for quite a bit of the race because there was no holes. It seemed like as the tires wore out and it got down to two lanes that you could kind of make people three wide and make some passes. It’s super circumstantial on the track of who’s in front of you, who’s behind you. Like there’s times when you feel like you’re going to have a good run and you don’t, and then there’s other times that it happens. So it was a good overall day for us.”

Kyle Busch – Finished third: “Stenhouse got a really good run and a good push and got by us there and then it was just about retaliation to get back on him and I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together. We did all we could here today and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we’ll try to win there.”

Aric Almirola – Finished fourth: “I thought I was right where I wanted to be. My car was really good through the middle of the pack and I didn’t want to get shuffled to the bottom. I was adamant about that, but I thought we had some pretty good runs toward the end and I thought we were gonna have a shot at it, but just getting side drafted and stuff we got stalled out. All in all it was a great day for our Fresh from Florida Ford Fusion and another Blue Oval two days in a row goes to Victory Lane.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished fifth: “We were a little better the closer we got to the front. We were trying hard, I just couldn’t push the car in front of me, so we weren’t really going as far as we wanted to go. But, it was still a great run for our UniFirst team. We ran up there throughout the last half of the race and that was pretty good. Congrats to Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and Roush and those guys. They deserve it they have been working really hard.”

Kurt Busch – Finished sixth: “I felt like we had a nice bit of strength today. It was good to come back to a restrictor-plate race and battle and defend what we did in Daytona. We got sixth today. Had a really good run with (Jamie) McMurray down the back straightaway, and I thought we were going to do some great things coming to the front straightaway. We just didn’t keep that draft with him. Awesome day for Ford and the way that (Ricky) Stenhouse won and how all of us worked together. It’s good teamwork for the Blue Oval.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished eighth: “We had a very solid race car all day long. Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, everybody on this Lowe’s car and just great teammates to work with out there. Great Chevy’s to work with and we finished a plate race and I don’t even think there is a scratch on this thing.  I mean that is like a double victory even though we finished eighth.”

David Ragan – Finished 10th: “Yeah, a team effort for sure. We had a really good car. It was a calm race until the last 50 laps. You just didn’t know when to be aggressive and when not to. We wanted to take care of our Camping World Ford. We got a little bit of damage there at the end and got damage from one of those wrecks and had to spend some time on pit road. The team did a great job fixing it up. The car still drove great at the end.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 13th: ”It was an intense 500-mile race, but I think our Geico Chevy ran well. It was tough to find cars to stay with us today, but we were able to move our way into the top ten on a couple occasions and even get out front to lead a few GEICO 500 laps. The car was a little tight, but overall, it was a strong day for this Germain Racing team.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 14th: “It was just an up-and-down day for us. Frustrating because we were fast and didn’t get to race for the win. It was cool to lead laps, though. We had a great First Fusion.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 22nd: “It was very disappointing. In traffic, it wasn’t very good at all. We didn’t run many laps inside the Top 5 or Top 10 all day because the car just really didn’t have a lot of speed doubled-up with everybody side-by-side. We’ve just got to try to work on that if we can. The car runs great by itself. But anytime we got a bit close to the front, those guys around me were just a little stronger to do things to put us in some bad spots and drop us back to the back. It happened time and time again. We’ll just have to see what we’re doing with the car and what we can improve.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 23rd: “I really don’t know what it was (the race-long vibration his car had), but it stayed with us all day. I didn’t know what to do. To have a car that can lead laps and run up front, this time we just happened to wreck up front. Solid performance from the team, just bad luck.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 30th: “(Allmendinger) just apologized. I don’t know that it was really his fault, per se. He had a big run, and he kind of got to my bumper and just happened to be in a bad spot coming up off the corner and was skewed a little bit to my left rear. And when that happens, it just unloads these cars too much.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 31st: “Yeah, I’m fine (after his wreck). I’m happy I didn’t get hit upside down. I’m all good. Our race team does a great job with safety. It’s just Talladega. It’s all it is. I think (Kevin) Harvick got behind me, and we were shoving, and Chase opened the door and then kind of closed it, and I tried to check up just a little bit and tapped him and when I checked up, it was a big wreck after that. I barely tapped (Elliott). And then I tried to get off him, but at that point, it was too late. It was just one of those things battling for the lead.”

Joey Logano – Finished 32nd: “I saw Chase tank-slapping it down the backstretch. I was hoping he’d turn to the left when he started spinning, but he went up the racetrack, and I was just sitting there in the outside lane saying, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be the first one there, and I can’t get away from him.’ So we got into the crash, unfortunately. That’s kind of a bummer. It’s part of it and part of superspeedway racing. Sometimes you win these things, and sometimes you get caught up in them. We’ll move on and hit the next race.”

Erik Jones – Finished 33rd: “I’m fine (limping after race). My heel is just a little bit hot from the race and hard to step on them when they’re cooking. I’m fine. It’s just unfortunate, I thought we had a good run going today, and I thought we had a car that was definitely capable of running in the top-10. I was up on the high side and saw the 24 (Chase Elliott) get loose and just can’t really do much, and there’s really nowhere to go. I wasn’t able to avoid it and got caught up in it.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 34th: “I’m not really sure. It kind of happened a few rows in front of me. All I saw was the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) coming back across the race track. I’m not sure how he got spun, but he ended up on the hood of the Winn-Dixie Chevrolet and unfortunately, just enough damage to not get it re-fired. The car wasn’t that bad, but must have done something to the motor there because I couldn’t get it fired up.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR – finished 35th: “It felt like we were in pretty good position most of the day. We got shuffled to the outside one time there and got in a bad spot and then they started wrecking. It’s a shame, it’s the way it goes here. Unfortunately for us, it’s been a tough one to finish, but we did get stage points today so that’s a bonus and at least it’s better than running all day and crashing out and not getting anything. All in all, it’s one of those deals, and it’s Talladega. Looking forward to Kansas next week for sure.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 36th: “I just saw somebody come across the field there and started checking up. I got kind of pushed back into it. I mean, it was just Talladega, it’s part of it. We are three-wide trying to get as much position as we can there at the end, and we were just too far back and we got in (it).”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 37th: Days of Thunder smoke, I think (on what he saw in the big wreck). I wasn’t trying to drive through it contrary to the way the video looks. I tried to get checked up, but you don’t have very good brakes at superspeedways, but I was on them as soon as I saw the smoke there. It’s just really hard to navigate. I stayed up high kind of hoping it would hit the wall and wash down and it didn’t. It stayed right up in front of me and I couldn’t see what I was driving into, but we had a really fast Ford this weekend. We qualified well with it. We ran up front all day and did all the things we needed to do.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 38th: “I was told to go low, and I just got spun. There was a lot of smoke, and it was hard to see. I really thought that everybody was doing a great job all day long. We were running two, three, four-wide all day long and nobody was getting too crazy. It’s to be expected. That’s part of the excitement of superspeedway racing. We had another really fast Aspen Dental Ford, we just couldn’t get to the finish.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 39th: “I have no idea (what happened in his late-race crash). We all kind of checked up, and I just got turned and destroyed. It figures. I haven’t gotten torn up too much here in the past, and I guess I was due one, but it wasn’t the week we needed. It’s been a few rough weeks in a row, but all you can do is get over it and move on.”

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