The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' second off-weekend of the year provided drivers and crew members alike with much needed rest before heading west for the season's first road course race. Ty Dillon would be making just his second visit to Sonoma Raceway, but his calm demeanor betrayed any pending apprehension, leaving the GEICO team optimistic when they entered the Cup Series garage.
Dillon and the No. 13 GEICO Camaro ZL1 took to the scenic road course on Friday for the weekend's opening practice session. He looked comfortable as he made right and left-hand turns in smooth fashion, evidencing his improvement from his rookie year in 2017. Dillon finished up 24th and 23rd in the day's two practice sessions. Qualifying offered the weekend's first setback after Dillon ended up 31st on Saturday, but, despite the undesired result, the sophomore spoke only of the quick car he piloted in Friday's practice sessions and focused on the race to come.
Bright sunshine, blue skies and near-perfect temperatures provided the backdrop for packed grandstands of racing fans when Dillon and the GEICO team strolled the starting grid on Sunday. Starting from 31st, Dillon's message to the Germain Racing crew was 'patience' during the parade laps, "We're going to be there all day, so let's communicate really well and get a good finish out of this." The pit crew heeded his advice and did a great job throughout the afternoon, getting the GEICO car on and off pit road efficiently during each stop.
Dillon practiced what he preached, at least in the initial laps, before he settled in and started gaining ground. At a track where passing is at a premium, the young gun gave the challenge little thought and instead clawed his way forward, collecting positions bit by bit before landing ten spots to the good, in the 21st position as the opening stage came to a close after 25-laps of racing. He was scored in 31st at the conclusion of stage two, but only because crew chief, Matt Borland, made a wise strategy call and ordered Dillon and his GEICO Camaro ZL1 down pit road with just three laps remaining in the stage.
Armed with near-fresh tires at the start of the third and final stage, Dillon pedaled his way around the 1.99-mile northern California road course with a veteran's calm. He had the GEICO Camaro ZL1 up to the 13th position before a transmission issue presented itself with just 47-laps left in the advertised distance. Dillon reported to Borland and company that his No. 13 machine was stuck in third gear. Given this, he began a free-fall through the field that saw him land in the 34th position. During his final pit stop of the race on lap 95, Dillon was provided a hammer to attempt to knock the car out of gear, but the shifter refused to give way and his efforts went unrewarded. After a strong run, a frustrated Dillon would be forced to ride out the final ten laps of the event in third gear before being relegated to an undeserved 33rd place finish.
"Today wasn't the ending that we wanted, but I'm not going to let a mechanical issue bring this team's morale down. There were bright spots this weekend that are worth focusing on," Dillon said. "This is only my second time ever racing here, and I continued to learn more about how to get through this course. Our team had decent practice sessions, we made good adjustments at the start of the race to get our GEICO Camaro ZL1 handling how I needed it to, and we got ourselves up to 13th at one point after starting in the back of the pack. It's unfortunate that the car got stuck in third gear and ruined what looked like would be a top-20 day because we really need those solid finishes, but sometimes things happen that are out of our control. We're going to focus on the positives that we took away from this weekend and put it all in our notes for when we come back to Sonoma next year."
The Windy City now awaits Germain Racing for race number 17 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Ty Dillon and the No. 13 GEICO Camaro ZL1 will hit the track at Chicagoland Speedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Saturday, June 30th, at 11:30 AM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 7:05 PM (ET).
The Overton's 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is on Sunday, July 1st, and it will be televised live on NBCSN beginning at 2:30 PM (ET). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.