It took until nearly 2:00 a.m. on the east coast to take care of things, but eventually, Erik Jones crossed the start/finish line at Darlington in first to take his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.
Jones was able to get past the race leader at the time in Kyle Larson off of the final restart of the race, and would later go against Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the eventual victory.
Busch made a run to Jones’ No. 20 but drove it too hard out of turn 2 in the closing laps, limping to a third-place finish.
Erik Jones tames Darlington, wins late show in South Carolina
It became clear early on that, like other tracks with this package, Darlington would emphasize track position and it would be hard to pass cars on long runs due to dirty air effecting them so much.
William Byron was running in the top four for the first part of the evening, but was shuffled back to ninth after a bad pit stop. Byron would hold steady in the middle of the pack for the rest of the night.
The same occurred late when Larson tried to make a move to get by Jones.
“I could never do anything with him,” Larson said on the NBCSN broadcast following the race. “The dirty air was just too bad.”
The win for Jones makes him the 11th different winner in the series this season and helped locked in a few others for the impending playoffs.
With Indianapolis – the last race before the postseason – next week, there are just two spots that aren’t spoken for in the 16-driver field.
Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez tangled in the race at Darlington before Newman vowed to get his payback on Suarez later on.
The two were never really close to each other for the rest of the event, but will now go into the final race, deadlocked for that final spot in the playoffs.
On top of that, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson found some bad luck to get in the way once again of a car that was running in the top three in the first half of the race.
That will make stage points through the first part of the Brickyard 400 very, very big.
In addition to the cutoff battle, Kyle Busch got an exciting confirmation at the end of the evening, letting him know that he had clinched the regular season points championship.
That gives Busch a bonus of 15 playoff points – half of what he had accumulated to this stage of the year. If the playoffs started today, he’d be 22 points ahead of the next driver and almost a full race out of the cutoff.
We’ll see how Busch can handle that in the future, but first we’ll turn to the Brickyard to set the final 16.
Indianapolis’ crown jewel event will kick off at 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday and will be televised nationally on NBC.
|Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||4||23|
|Not locked in||Points||Cutoff|
*Kyle Busch was awarded an additional 15 playoff points for winning the regular season title.
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