DARLINGTON, S.C. – It was quite the weekend at Darlington Raceway with Throwback themes, new 2019 winner in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Xfinity Series winner – wasn’t.
Jones Gets it Done
After a four hour rain-delay on Sunday night, the revered Southern 500 finally took the green flag at right about 10 p.m. ET. A mere four hours later at 1:54 a.m., Erik Jones bested them all and won his first Cup race of 2019.
He and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team started 15th, worked their way forward, took advantage of a great restart on lap 282 and held off teammate – and mentor – Kyle Busch for the win.
Jones led the final 40 circuits around the 1.336-mile, egg-shaped oval to lock himself in the Playoffs and garner his second-career Cup victory. Busch made a valiant effort to regain the lead in the closing laps, but brushed the wall with four to go then REALLY brushed it again with three remaining to nix his chances.
Don’t think Jones didn’t sense the former series champion and Southern 500 winner in his No. 18 Toyota reeling him in during the closing laps.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Jones said. “Kyle (Busch) is a great race car driver. I’ve raced him a lot, and obviously you want to beat him to win, right? I was just locked in, I stayed focused. I really thought it was our night when we got out front.
“It’s amazing for me to be able to hold off Kyle. It’s really cool, just for the history we have with Kyle giving me my first opportunity in the Truck Series. To race him for the win in such a big race, that’s pretty cool and something I’m never going to forget.”
With Busch brushing the wall, his slowed momentum opened the door for Kyle Larson to take second.
“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.
“Worn out surface and the groove is already narrow, it was just extra difficult. I felt like both the No. 18 and I were a little bit better than he was at the end, but couldn’t do nothing with him.”
With one race remaining, the 16-driver Playoff line up still isn’t entirely solidified. There are three drivers all gunning for the cutoff point of 16th place.
Clint Bowyer finished sixth and is in 15th place, just eight markers over Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. Mathematically, Suarez and Newman are tied with the same amount of points. However, the tie breaker goes to Suarez based off stats.
Jimmie Johnson had a great night going until getting caught up in someone else’s wreck on lap 275 damaging his No. 48 Chevrolet. He ended up coming across the stripe for 16th place.
That places him 18th in points trailing 16th place by 18 points. The seven-time champion will need a win to get in at Indy this coming Sunday.
Hamlin DQ’d from Xfinity Victory
When the checkered flag flew on Saturday afternoon at Darlington, it appeared Denny Hamlin had won his sixth NXS race here. It appeared he earned his 18th-career victory. He appeared in Victory Lane, on TV and Radio as the winner.
However, a few hours later the NASCAR Tech Officials informed the Joe Gibbs Racing team the car’s left front was too low and the right rear too high and stripped them of the win.
In a makeshift Victory Lane, Cole Custer rolled his car in to celebrate as the race winner. Officially following him, and also moving up one spot, were Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and that “new driver” Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Pretty impressive for Earnhardt, Jr. driving his self-owned No. 8 Chevrolet for the first time this year, running in the top-five and 10 just two weeks removed from a plane crash. This will be his only start this season.
Next week’s action moves to the “big track” of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for both series, the Trucks are off until Las Vegas the following week.
Feature Image Credits: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images