The Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle is heating up quite nicely as the playoffs are about a month away. Toyota drivers, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, have separated themselves from the rest of the rookies as the two to beat for the ROY title.
Will it be Suarez or Jones who winds up with Rookie of the Year honors for 2017?
There was a Subway commercial featuring Daniel Suarez that debuted earlier this season that really stuck with me.
“I came here to be better,” Suarez said. “Now I stand here a challenger. To be questioned, to turn heads, and to be the last person anyone wants to see in their rearview mirror.
“I came here to race.”
Sure, those lines are about as cliche as you can get. After all, it’s all a marketing campaign for the rookie to look like a savvy veteran in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. But for whatever reason, those words hold merit with me.
Daniel Suarez will be your 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year when the checkered flag flies at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. And he’s turning those words uttered in the Subway commercial into a reality.
Suarez currently leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points standings by nine over his closest competitor, Erik Jones. However, in the regular point standings, Jones leads Suarez by nine. Either way you cut it, those are the two to beat, and they’ve remained close on track all season long.
But Suarez has had the upper hand on Jones in a few areas that are utterly important in terms of eventually finding Victory Lane for the first time in Cup at a young age for both these drivers.
Suarez has steadily been improving week after week. “I came here to be better,” sticking with the commercial rhetoric. He’s tallied eight top 10s and one top five so far this season with only two DNFs. Funny enough, one came last weekend at Michigan, when Kasey Kahne crowded the No. 19 into the wall. The other one came in the season-opening Daytona 500, where he got caught up in someone else’s mess once again.
Just a couple weekends ago, I was in Watkins Glen to see Suarez’s career-best run of third (coupled with a stage victory, holding off championship favorite Martin Truex Jr. in the process). It was then when it hit me: “Wait, why we talking about this dude’s season?”
He was thrust into the spotlight, replacing Carl Edwards as he abruptly retired. His plan to run another season of XFINITY was thrown out the window and all of a sudden, he was going to be driving in the Cup Series full-time in one of the best cars in the garage.
But Edwards hasn’t dropped by the wayside altogether, because Suarez is using him for help. As a matter of fact, he’s using all of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to learn more every week and lean on them. From two former champions in Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to Denny Hamlin, Suarez has a number of wise guys to bounce ideas off of and absorb information from.
Truex ain’t no slouch in his own right, but Jones over at Furniture Row Racing would love to have two more teammates to lean on, especially former champions in the sport.
As a matter of fact, earlier this year at Charlotte, Kyle Busch called Suarez “a sponge” due to all the information he soaks up, and teased the Monterrey, Mexico native for calling him too much to ask for advice. You can’t say the kid isn’t going the extra mile.
Plus, Suarez is finally getting the finishes he deserves this season. Before his wreck at Michigan, the No. 19 was coming off four straight top 10 finishes. And every time Suarez and company go to a track for the second time, they improve. And his peers in the garage take notice.
Both Suarez and Jones have won championships, but when they went head-to-head last season for the XFINITY title, Suarez emerged with the hardware. As the 2017 season winds down, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either the No. 19 or No. 77 in Victory Lane, but put your money on Suarez to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Because he came here to race. – Davey Segal
Can’t Keep Up With The Jones
Suarez is definitely the biggest obstacle for Jones, and I see the two of them both having remarkable careers in Cup, but I think Jones has the leg up at the moment.
The two Joe Gibbs Racing-developed drivers have the same number of top 10s after 23 races, but Jones has one more top-five. Suarez currently leads Jones in the rookie standings, but Jones is ahead in the actual standings.
The fact that the rookie that is the highest in the point standings is not also leading the rookie standings tells me that there is a flaw in the format in which NASCAR does rookie points.
Suarez has two distinct advantages over Jones right now; he has a stage win, which he picked up at Watkins Glen International, and he has four fewer DNFs. Jones has failed to finish six races this season, but most of those have occurred because of bad luck, as well as driving for a brand new team. Furniture Row Racing proved this past Sunday at Michigan International Speedway that it has worked out the kinks in its startup second team.
Jones was battling for a win at MIS with teammate Truex for most of the day. If he keeps doing that, then a win will fall his way.
Suarez, on the other hand, has run in the top 10 a lot this season, but has not really been a major player in any race so far. With more experience, and when JGR finally catches back up to its satellite team, Suarez will win some races, but right now the spotlight is on Jones.
The 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion has shown he is quick to win in every series he comes into. He picked up his first CWTS win in his fifth career start. He netted his first XFINITY Series win in his ninth try. With the dominant cars that FRR is giving him, Jones could easily continue his trend of winning in his first season in a series.
Suarez has typically taken more time to develop in each of his steps. Whether it was CWTS, NXS or the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series, Suarez never won until his second season driving majority of the races. I see that same trend continuing at the Cup level.
Next year, when Jones and Suarez are both driving JGR cars, they might have nearly identical seasons. But right now, Jones is clearly with the better performing team.
If Jones can manage to win a race or two, then it will vault him ahead of Suarez in the rookie standings, where he would likely remain for the rest of the season.
One of the small details that factor in who is named ROTY is at the end of the season, a panel awards bonus points based on a rookie’s conduct, appearance and relationship with the media.
The appearance aspect of this is what is the clincher for Jones. As long as he has that awesome mullet and its awesome hashtag, #mu77et, NASCAR should give him serious appearance points.
Okay, that is probably not what the panel will score him off of, but regardless, that mullet is legendary and Jones has the skills to back up adorning it, which is precisely why he will be the 2017 ROTY. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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