Erik Jones puts Petty in Darlington victory lane for first time in 55 years

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 04: Erik Jones, driver of the #43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 04, 2022 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

There was drama, emotions, and a storybook ending at Darlington Raceway Sunday night. It was a fitting opening to NASCAR’s Playoffs that saw favorites fall by the wayside, and an underdog non-Playoff driver score an improbable win.

Erik Jones took the storied No. 43 made famous by Richard Petty to Darlington’s victory lane 55 years to the day Petty himself celebrated a win at the historic track.

A good pit stop, and some misfortune from the race’s dominate driver, gave Jones the opportunity to take the lead with 22 laps to go. He would hold off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps and score his third career Cup series victory and his second at Darlington.

“It’s just awesome,” Jones said. “Just so proud of these guys, Petty GMS and Focus Packer Crew. We’ve been so close all year, and I didn’t think today was going to be the day. It was going to be a tough one to win, I knew, but no better fitting place. I love this track, I love this race. On that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it on there twice, pretty cool.”

Hamlin ran second by .252 of a second followed by Tyler Reddick, pole sitter Joey Logano and Christopher Bell rounding out the top five. Hamlin said he did all he could to try and catch Jones in the final laps.

“Last night in Xfinity there was like two and a half seconds of falloff in the last 15-lap run, and I think it was about a second for us in a 15-lap run,” he said. “So the speeds are so fast, and so much on throttle time, it’s an error game.

“Erik just did a really great job.”

Kyle Busch led a race high 155 laps, won Stage 2 and spent much of the final quarter of the race battling Martin Truex Jr. Truex led 48 laps and cycled back to the lead after a round of green flag stops on lap 326 over Busch. However, on lap 334, Truex slowed with engine issues; Busch rocketed by, and it appeared he was well on the way to victory.

The race’s ninth and final caution came out on lap 341 when Cody Ware came to a stop entering Turn 3. The leaders pitted with Busch coming out with the lead and Jones in second. While the field was under caution, Busch’s Toyota began showing smoke as the engine expired. Busch coasted directly to the garage and was out of the race.

From there Jones had to hold off Hamlin, who ironically drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team that released Jones and replaced him with Christopher Bell just two years ago. The last time Jones won at Darlington was in 2019, when he was driving for Gibbs.

Sunday Jones ran perfect laps in the closing stages and scored win number 200 much to the delight of the sold-out crowd. It was also the first time a non-Playoff driver won the first Playoff race since 2004.

“Man, I was focused forward,” Jones said. “Honestly that’s the calmest I’ve been in the race car going for a win ever, really. I think back to the last time winning here, and I was driving my guts out, my nerves were pounding, my stomach was hurting, and today it was just business as usual.

“Just feel good about this track and knew Denny would run me clean and knew it was going to be tough for him to pass. It was tough to pass all day, and we got a good restart there.”

Michael McDowell was sixth, Brad Keselowski seventh, William Byron, who won Stage 1 was eighth, with Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman rounding out the top 10.

Kyle Busch losing an engine under caution was only one of the dramatic stories for the Playoff drivers. The top seed in the Playoffs, and the regular season champion Chase Elliott was the first car knocked out when he got loose, spun coming out of Turn 1 and swept up another Playoff driver, Chase Briscoe. Briscoe was able to continue, Elliott was the first car out of the race.

For the second race in a row, Kyle Larson seemed to suffer some sort of mechanical issue. He pitted under green on lap 79, but after checking under the hood, the crew could find nothing obvious. Larson came back out three laps down, and even took a solo spin later in the race. He made up those lost laps however and rallied to finish 12th and on the lead lap. Ryan Blaney finished just behind Larson in 13th.

Austin Cindric was 16th, Austin Dillon 17th and were never competitive. Daniel Suarez ran inside the top five for much of the race, but a late speeding penalty doomed his positive run and left him 18th. Suarez’s Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain also ran strong early, but a suspension issue slowed him; he finished 20th.

Kevin Harvick had a fiery end to his race when his Ford caught fire on lap 274 forcing him to abandon the flaming machine and finish in 33rd.

With no Playoff drivers winning, none will advance to the next round automatically. That can change next week when the second race of the Playoffs takes place at Kansas Speedway.

Photos: NASCAR at Darlington Raceway Sun. Sept. 4, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Cook Out Southern 500
Darlington Raceway
Darlington, South Carolina
Sunday, September 4, 2022

1. (15) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 367.

2. (11) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 367.

3. (4) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 367.

4. (1) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 367.

5. (2) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 367.

6. (10) Michael McDowell, Ford, 367.

7. (25) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 367.

8. (3) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 367.

9. (8) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 367.

10. (16) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 367.

11. (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 367.

12. (7) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 367.

13. (9) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 367.

14. (30) Cole Custer, Ford, 367.

15. (21) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 367.

16. (6) Austin Cindric # (P), Ford, 367.

17. (13) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, 367.

18. (36) Daniel Suarez (P), Chevrolet, 367.

19. (14) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 366.

20. (12) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 366.

21. (28) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 366.

22. (29) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 366.

23. (24) Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, 365.

24. (34) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 365.

25. (26) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 365.

26. (27) Chris Buescher, Ford, 365.

27. (19) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 363.

28. (31) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 363.

29. (35) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 361.

30. (5) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Engine, 345.

31. (17) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Water Pump, 336.

32. (32) Cody Ware, Ford, Accident, 331.

33. (18) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, Exhaust, 274.

34. (33) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, Exhaust, 236.

35. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 164.

36. (23) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, DVP, 113.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 120.406 mph.
Time of Race: 4 Hrs, 9 Mins, 49 Secs. Margin of Victory: .252 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 9 for 58 laps.
Lead Changes: 21 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Logano (P) 1-37;L. Cassill(i) 38;J. Logano (P) 39-65;W. Byron (P) 66-74;B. Wallace (P) 75-76;W. Byron (P) 77-117;K. Busch (P) 118-152;D. Hamlin (P) 153;R. Chastain (P) 154;B. Wallace (P) 155-156;B. Keselowski 157-167;K. Busch (P) 168-193;C. LaJoie 194-197;K. Busch (P) 198-208;M. Truex Jr. 209-220;K. Busch (P) 221-293;M. Truex Jr. 294-319;K. Busch (P) 320;D. Hamlin (P) 321-325;M. Truex Jr. 326-335;K. Busch (P) 336-344;E. Jones 345-367.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch (P) 6 times for 155 laps; Joey Logano (P) 2 times for 64 laps; William Byron (P) 2 times for 50 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 3 times for 48 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 23 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 11 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 2 times for 6 laps; Bubba Wallace (P) 2 times for 4 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 4 laps; Landon Cassill(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Ross Chastain (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 24,11,18,20,19,1,8,43,12,45
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,19,12,22,24,20,48,99,43,34