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Erik Jones survives Daytona crashfest for first Cup win

By Pete McCole
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Winning a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race oftentimes takes skill, determination and horsepower. But sometimes, it also takes being able to keep your car in one piece until the end of the race.

For Erik Jones, surviving Saturday night’s wild crashfest at Daytona International Speedway until the end earned him his first-career Cup Series victory in his 57th-career start, beating out defending Cup Series Champion Martin Truex, Jr. in a double-overtime finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Jones restarted on the outside of Truex, Jr. for the final three-lap green-white-checkered dash to the finish and surged ahead on the outside on the final lap to secure the victory.

Truex, Jr. came home second, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne and Chris Buescher.

Jones led just one lap – the final lap – and managed to bring his No. 20 Toyota Camry to victory lane mostly intact despite getting caught up in the two biggest crashes of the night.

“How about that race, boys and girls? That was something else,” said Jones. “I thought that we were out of it and we were right back in it. Took the lead and ran away. Wow, what an awesome race. To have on here and my first win at Daytona. My first superspeedway win. What an awesome day. I am out of breath. Too much smoke in the car from that burnout. I can barely breathe. What an awesome finish.”

Jones first-career Cup Series win comes just a little over year after he lost his father and mentor, Dave Jones, who died of cancer last June at the age of 53.

“I was thinking about my mom and dad after the checkered,” said Jones. “My mom stayed home from this one. She missed my first Cup Series win. So, hi, mom. My dad would have been so proud of the work we did to get here. It’s just an awesome day for us.”

Four multi-car wrecks, lots of sparks, sheet metal flying around, a red flag – Saturday night’s race had it all. In other words – a typical restrictor-plate race.

And in typical restrictor-plate fashion, most of the top contenders were already being towed back to the garage before the race hit the halfway point.

The first melee broke out just ten laps into the second stage on lap 55 when Brad Keselowski got turned off the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. while battling for third, touching off a crash that wiped out nearly half the field including Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.

Barely ten laps later, Stenhouse, Jr. set off another crash when he tangled with Kyle Busch – this time battling for third – which took out Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and race leader William Byron.

In all, there were 10 caution flags thrown during the course of the race – and Stenhouse, Jr. was involved in four of them.

On lap 125, Kyle Larson cut a right-rear tire, sending Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet down the banking and into the path of Stenhouse, Jr., who suffered damage to his Ford Fusion. Finally, on lap 151, Stenhouse blew a left-rear tire that sent him spinning through the infield grass and mercifully ended his night.

By the time the race entered the final 10 laps there were 25 cars left running when another crash involving Jimmie Johnson and Aric Almirola sent the race into overtime.

Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick led the field to the green flag for the first overtime attempt, but the outside line got the jump with Jones and Kahne pushing Truex, Jr. to the front while Harvick got shuffled back.

Just 100 yards from the white flag, Darrell Wallace, Jr. got into the back of Clint Bowyer in the tri-oval, causing the final wreck of the evening – this one swallowing up 10 cars including Harvick, Johnson, Alex Bowman and Trevor Bayne and bringing out the red flag.

After the cleanup, the field – now with just 13 cars left on the lead lap – lined up for a second attempt with Jones and Truex, Jr. on the front row. After initially getting muscled out of position, Jones fought back on the outside and took Truex, Jr. and Kahne three wide on the backstretch to move out in front but couldn’t clear Truex, Jr..

Finally, after nearly a full lap battling side by side, Jones edged ahead of Truex, Jr. with a push from Buescher and slid down in front of Truex, Jr. as the field exited the backstretch and then held off Truex, Jr. through the final quarter-mile to take the checkered flag.

Truex, Jr.’s second-place finish was his second runner-up at Daytona, and whole he’s still searching for his first restrictor-plate victory, he was happy to make it through to the end.

“Man, they destroyed some cars tonight. That was insane,” said Truex, Jr. “Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. I had a really fast car. I have to get better at the blocking. It never has been my strong suite. Without a question, I struggled a bit seeing the runs coming. Me and my team are trying to figure that out together. It was a good run and we came up a little short.”

Kahne, who looked to have his best shot getting back into victory lane Saturday night, scored his first top-10 of the season and his best finish since coming home 17th at Texas.

“I knew I had a shot (at winning). I knew I had a car capable,” said Kahne. “Once we got going in the second stage I knew my car was capable of winning it was just a matter of where I put it and the places I put it in and we ended up fourth, so not good enough.

“We ran, I think, fourth and fourth in the final two stages there, so that is great for our team. We were great in Sonoma, good here, we keep fighting and the guys do their job we just need to keep getting more consistent, but we are getting there slowly, but surely.”

Despite posting a 33rd-place finish, Kyle Busch leaves Daytona still the points leader, holding the top spot by 57 points over Harvick.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, FL
Coke Zero Sugar 400 – July 7, 2018

1. (29) Erik Jones, Toyota, 168.
2. (13) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 168.
3. (24) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 168.
4. (28) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 168.
5. (25) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 168.
6. (19) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 168.
7. (31) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 168.
8. (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 168.
9. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 168.
10. (2) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 168.
11. (34) * Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 168.
12. (16) * Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 168.
13. (35) * D.J. Kennington, Toyota, 168.
14. (22) Darrell Wallace, Jr. #, Chevrolet, 167.
15. (21) David Ragan, Ford, 167.
16. (39) Ray Black II(i), Chevrolet, 167.
17. (6) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 167.
18. (40) J.J. Yeley(i), Toyota, 166.
19. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 162.
20. (20) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 162.
21. (33) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 162.
22. (9) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 162.
23. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 162.
24. (37) * Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 162.
25. (36) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 161.
26. (8) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 155.
27. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 155.
28. (30) Paul Menard, Ford, 152.
29. (14) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 123.
30. (27) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 68.
31. (38) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, Accident, 65.
32. (18) William Byron #, Chevrolet, Accident, 64.
33. (15) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 64.
34. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 54.
35. (32) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, Accident, 54.
36. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 53.
37. (23) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 53.
38. (17) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 53.
39. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, Accident, 53.
40. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 53.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 130.435 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 13 Mins, 12 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.125 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 10 for 46 laps.

Lead Changes: 25 among 16 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C. Elliott 1-10; R. Stenhouse Jr. 11; C. Elliott 12; R. Stenhouse Jr. 13-42; Kyle Busch 43; B. Keselowski 44-52; W. Byron # 53-64; R. Stenhouse Jr. 65-69; R. Newman 70; R. Stenhouse Jr. 71-81; A. Bowman 82; A. Allmendinger 83; T. Dillon 84-86; C. Bowyer 87-88; M. McDowell 89-107; R. Stenhouse Jr. 108; J. Johnson 109-112; M. McDowell 113; J. Johnson 114-119; R. Stenhouse Jr. 120-122; K. Harvick 123; M. Truex Jr. 124-137; K. Kahne 138-154; K. Harvick 155-161; M. Truex Jr. 162-167; E. Jones 168;.

Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) R. Stenhouse Jr. 6 times for 51 laps; M. McDowell 2 times for 20 laps; M. Truex Jr. 2 times for 20 laps; K. Kahne 1 time for 17 laps; W. Byron # 1 time for 12 laps; C. Elliott 2 times for 11 laps; J. Johnson 2 times for 10 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 9 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 8 laps; T. Dillon 1 time for 3 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 2 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 1 lap; E. Jones 1 time for 1 lap; R. Newman 1 time for 1 lap; A. Allmendinger 1 time for 1 lap; A. Bowman 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 17,18,42,24,9,41,31,2,3,88

Stage #2 Top Ten: 17,34,88,95,13,48,42,3,6,31

Top 10 in Points: 1. Kyle Busch – 749 (5 Wins); 2. Kevin Harvick – 692 (5 Wins); 3. Martin Truex, Jr. – 629 (3 Wins); 4. Joey Logano – 618 (1 Win); 5. Brad Keselowski – 596; 6. Clint Bowyer – 594 (2 Wins); 7. Kurt Busch – 566; 8. Kyle Larson – 544; 9. Denny Hamlin – 538; 10. Aric Almirola – 503.

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