A hard day’s night: Erik Jones wins at Darlington

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 02: Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Sport Clips Throwback Toyota, celebrates after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 02, 2019 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

It took two days thanks to a rain delay, but Erik Jones powered to victory early Monday morning scoring his second career win this one coming in NASCAR’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Jones battled Kyle Larson on a final restart on lap 282 taking the lead for the final time and holding off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in the final laps.

“I’m wore out just mentally and physically,” Jones said.  “More mentally than anything.  But Kyle was really running hard, and he’s one of the best guys out there… I was pedaling as hard as I could and just glad to hold him off.  And to finally get to Victory Lane, I feel like it’s been coming for us for a long time, so it just feels really good.”

For Busch who led a race high 118 laps his chance for the win with three laps to go when he tagged the fence. He tagged the fence harder as Jones was coming to take the white flag.  Larson was able to retake second as Busch slowed and rode along the wall for the final lap and held onto third.

“Yeah, when he started to inch out a little bit, I was trying to save my right front because I knew my right front wasn’t going to make it the whole rest of the way without me knocking the wall down,” Busch said. “And I was right.  I hit the wall with about four to go and then I hit it again with three to go, and that was ‑‑ it killed it that time.  Luckily, we were able to salvage a third, just dragging the fence for the last two laps.”

Kevin Harvick was fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth. Clint Bowyer was sixth.

The start of the race was delayed by rain just over three hours and it was Kurt Busch who took control early. He would win Stage 1 and lead 94 laps.  He was swept up in a six-car accident on lap 275 that started when Daniel Hemric blew a tire.  Busch was able to continue but had to settle for a seventh-place finish.

It was Kurt’s younger brother Kyle who had the most work to do. After an engine change forced him to start in the back, Kyle was 15th by lap 37 and took the lead after a round of pit stops on lap 146. He would go on to win Stage 2 and lead a race high 118 laps. The final round of pit stops came after the Hemric incident and Busch came out third.

Jones however would take the lead and after several laps spent fighting off Larson, would take the top spot and hold in for the final 79 laps, including a cycle of green flag stops with 40 to go, and his second career win in his 100th career start.

“Erik did a good job on that last restart to get by me, and I was better than him all throughout that run,” Larson said.  “It’s just I couldn’t ever do anything with him just because the dirty air was really bad.  Wore‑out surface and the groove is already narrow, and it was just extra difficult.  I felt like both 18 and I were a little bit better than he was at the end but couldn’t do nothing with him.”

Matt DiBenedetto continued his impressive performances with an eighth-place finish. Paul Menard and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

Kyle Busch can console himself a bit with the knowledge that he clinched NASCAR’s regular season championship.

With one race to go to decide who will make up the 16 drivers in NASCAR’s Playoffs, four are hovering around the final spot. With his sixth-place finish Bowyer is above the line in 15th. Daniel Suarez who finished 11th made contact with Ryan Newman while for position leaving Newman none too happy. Ironically the two are tied for the 16th and final spot. Jimmie Johnson who ran as high as fourth was also swept up in the Hemric accident. He was able to survive and finished 16th but is now 18 points below the cutline.

A total of 13 drivers have clinched a spot in the Playoffs either through wins or points. Joining Kyle Busch are Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Jones, Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Aric Almirola.

Jones who is rumored to be racing for his job at JGR will now be able to one of NASCAR’s biggest races on his resume.

“Is there anything more to say?” Jones said.  “I mean, it’s been a lot of doubt and a lot of speculation, and I put my heart and soul into this and this race team, and this is my living and how I want to make a career and what I want to do.  It doesn’t get any better.  On my list, this race is really high, and it’s going to look damned good to see my face on that trophy.”

The final race of the regular season will be the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Sunday.


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Bojangles’ Southern 500

Darlington Raceway

Darlington, South Carolina

Sunday, September 1, 2019

1. (15)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 367.

2. (3)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 367.

3. (33)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 367.

4. (11)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 367.

5. (2)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 367.

6. (13)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 367.

7. (4)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 367.

8. (19)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 367.

9. (17)  Paul Menard, Ford, 367.

10. (14)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.

11. (5)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, 367.

12. (12)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 367.

13. (10)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 366.

14. (7)  Joey Logano, Ford, 366.

15. (22)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 366.

16. (6)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 366.

17. (30)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 366.

18. (16)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 365.

19. (8)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 365.

20. (29)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 365.

21. (1)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 365.

22. (20)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 365.

23. (24)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 365.

24. (28)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 365.

25. (25)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 364.

26. (26)  David Ragan, Ford, 363.

27. (32)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, 362.

28. (31)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 361.

29. (9)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 356.

30. (34)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 355.

31. (37)  Joe Nemechek(i), Chevrolet, 354.

32. (35)  JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 352.

33. (21)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 351.

34. (39)  Joey Gase(i), Toyota, 349.

35. (38)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 344.

36. (27)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 330.

37. (18)  Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, Accident, 274.

38. (23)  Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 274.

39. (36)  BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 194.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  133.825 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 44 Mins, 46 Secs. Margin of Victory:  4.058 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  7 for 35 laps.

Lead Changes:  13 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   W. Byron 0;B. Keselowski 1-19;K. Busch 20-69;C. Elliott 70-78;K. Busch 79-103;K. Larson 104-142;K. Busch 143-159;K. Busch 160-277;K. Larson 278-282;E. Jones 283-320;C. Bowyer 321;K. Busch 322-323;J. Johnson 324-326;E. Jones 327-367.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kyle Busch 1 time for 118 laps; Kurt Busch 4 times for 94 laps; Erik Jones 2 times for 79 laps; Kyle Larson 2 times for 44 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 19 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 9 laps; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 3 laps; Clint Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 1,48,42,18,11,9,2,22,19,20

Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,1,11,20,42,14,48,24,2,4

Greg Engle