NASCAR playoffs at Darlington: Erik Jones drives No. 43 to Victory Lane for first time in eight years – CBS Sports

NASCAR playoffs at Darlington: Erik Jones drives No. 43 to Victory Lane for first time in eight years - CBS Sports

On September 4, 1967, Richard Petty won the Southern 500 for the only time in his unmatched stock car racing career. In the 55 years since, victories for Petty’s car number have become harder and harder to come by — until Sunday night, when Petty’s driver brought No. 43 back to where it belongs.

After taking the lead when Kyle Busch blew an engine under caution, Jones passed Denny Hamlin on the final 20 lap run to the checkered flag, edging him out to win the Cook Out Southern 500 for the second time in his career.

Jones’ win is more than just the third of his career and his first in three years — It’s the first win for Richard Petty’s No. 43 since 2014, and the 200th win in the car number’s history.

Cook Out Southern 500 unofficial results

  1. number 43 – Erik Jones
  2. number 11 – Denny Hamlin
  3. #8 – Tyler Reddick
  4. number 22 – Joey Logano
  5. number 20 – Christopher Bell
  6. number 34 – Michael McDowell
  7. #6 – Brad Keselowski
  8. number 24 – William Byron
  9. number 45 – Bubba Wallace
  10. number 48 – Alex Bowman

Jones was running third with 28 laps to go when the final caution came out for a Cody Ware crash, setting up a final round of pit stops under caution that saw Jones exit second behind Kyle Busch. Then, under caution, Busch’s engine suddenly smoked — putting Jones in the race lead and giving him a chance to end a three-year winless drought that had lasted, coincidentally, since he first won the Southern 500 in 2019, and which saw him land with the Richard Petty’s team after being dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2020 season.

“Just amazing. Just so proud of these guys at Petty GMS, the FocusFactor crew,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Man, we’ve been so close, here and there all year. I didn’t think today would be the day. It was going to be tough to win, I knew. But no better place, man. I love this track, I love this race, and I’m on that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it there twice is pretty cool.”

Jones becomes the 17th different driver to win a Cup race this season, setting a modern-era record for the most different winners through 27 races. He is also the seventh different driver to ever win in the No. 43 — In addition to Richard Petty (192), other drivers Jones now joins include Jim Paschal (2), Bobby Hamilton (2), Lee Petty (1), John Andretti. (1), and Aric Almirola (1).

As a non-playoff driver, Jones prevented any of the playoff drivers from gaining an automatic spot in the round of 12, outlasting them all in a race that saw many suffer mechanical problems.

A race of attrition

From the time that race began in 1950, the Southern 500 has been billed as one of NASCAR’s most brutal tests of man and machine, with Darlington being tough and unforgiving on driver and equipment alike. On Sunday night, the Southern 500 lived up to its old reputation, with The Lady in Black rejecting many of the finals suitors who tried to woo her.

Early in the race, Kyle Larson began experiencing electrical problems in his engine, losing four laps which he would later make up for on his way to a 12th place finish. He was fortunate to do so, as his fellow finalists were not nearly as fortunate.

Chase Elliott crashed out on lap 113, suffering terminal damage to his rear control arms in a wreck that also picked up Chase Briscoe. Ross Chastain worked his way up to third, but his chances of victory came to a grinding halt when something went wrong with the drive pins in his left rear suspension.

Kevin Harvick had a scary exit from the race when his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford burst into flames after his right front rocker panel caught fire. Harvick — who made strong comments earlier in the week about how he felt NASCAR was not doing enough about safety concerns with the construction of the Next Gen car — made even stronger comments about the quality of Next Gen car parts after climbing out from his machine as it was consumed by fire.

“I’m sure it’s just the nasty parts on the racer, as we’ve seen so many times. We didn’t fix anything,” Harvick told NBC Sports, sharing that the flames started coming through the dash of his car. “… What a disaster, man. No reason. We didn’t touch the wall, didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned car and can’t finish the race, during the finals, because of crappy parts.”

Martin Truex Jr. looked to have the race under control and headed for his first win of the season when he suddenly lost power steering, and then saw his engine go with it. That left the race in the hands of Kyle Busch until his engine suddenly and inexplicably expired while riding around under caution.

“Just had a great car and doesn’t come out with anything to show for it. That’s what I really, really hate about it,” Busch told NBC Sports. “… I don’t know. The sun will rise tomorrow.”

Picture of the final

With Chase Elliott crashing and finishing last, Joey Logano now took a six point lead over William Byron in the round of 16 standings. Elliott dropped back to ninth (-24), but he was able to stay 14 points above the cut line thanks to an abundance of playoff points he earned by winning the regular season championship.

Daniel Suarez, who finished 18th after an up-and-down day, currently holds the final transfer point to make the round of 12. The four drivers below the cut-off line after the first final race are Austin Cindric (-2), Austin. Dillon (-4), Chase Briscoe (-10), and Kevin Harvick (-13).

Exhausted results of the race

  • Given that they are two of the most iconic numbers in NASCAR history, Jones’ victory following Austin Dillon’s victory at Daytona last weekend marks the first time that Richard Childress Racing’s #3 and Richard Petty’s #43 have won in consecutive weeks since 1999. John Andretti scored a dramatic victory at Martinsville in the Petty No. 43, and the next week saw Dale Earnhardt take the #3 to victory in the DieHard 500 at Talladega.
  • With a seventh-place finish, Brad Keselowski tied his season-best result while also taking his fourth top 10 of the season. That now gives Keselowski more than double the top 10s he had in his statistically worst season in 2010 — another indicator that the glass is half full for Keselowski.
  • The Southern 500 marked William Byron’s strongest run in months, as he led twice for a total of 50 laps before finishing eighth, his first top 10 since Sonoma in June. It was the fourth most laps that Byron led in a race throughout the season, although it pales in comparison to his totals from Atlanta (111), Richmond (122), and Martinsville (212).
  • Cole Custer continues to look like he could turn a corner. Custer ran well all night and finished a respectable 14th, marking his third straight finish of 16th or better after what was another disappointing year for the former Cup Rookie of the Year.
  • Ty Gibbs took the No. 23 for 23XI Racing to a 15th-place finish, marking his third top 15 in now seven races as the substitute driver for Kurt Busch. Gibbs’ finish meant both 23XI cars finished in the top 15 after their number swap to give the #45 – driven to a ninth-place finish by Bubba Wallace – the best chance possible at the owner’s championship.
  • Corey LaJoie enjoyed another strong South 500 run, staying under caution to take the lead and tough in the top 10 after running with the leaders overnight. Unfortunately, LaJoie would later report fuel pump problems and fade to 24th.

Next race

The NASCAR playoffs round of 16 continues at the core next week as the Cup Series returns to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 next Sunday at 3pm ET on USA Network and streaming on fuboTV (try for free).

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