Erik Jones Survives Daytona to Score First Cup Victory
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.
"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 buyatoyota.com 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 polesitter Chase Elliott.
Barely ten laps later, Stenhouse 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 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, 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 to the front while Harvick got shuffled back.
Just 100 yards from the white flag, Darrell Wallace 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 on the front row. After initially getting muscled out of position, Jones fought back on the outside and took Truex and Kahne three wide on the backstretch to move out in front but couldn't clear Truex.
Finally, after nearly a full lap battling side by side, Jones edged ahead of Truex with a push from Buescher and slid down in front of Truex as the field exited the backstretch and then held off Truex through the final quarter-mile to take the checkered flag.
Truex'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.
ERIK JONES, No. 20 buyatoyota.com Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Erik, how do you feel buddy?
“Oh, boy. How about that race, boys and girls? That was something else. 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 buyatoyota.com 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.”
What do you want to say to the fans?
“Thank you. Thank you, so much. A lot of hard work to be here. I was thinking about my mom and dad after the checkered. 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.”
You’re locked into the Playoffs with this win, how does it feel to get your first at Daytona?
“What a day. I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the buyatoyota.com into Victory Lane. I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Furniture Row Racing
Finishing Position: 2nd
Did luck turn around for you here at Daytona?
“I think it had to have. Man, they destroyed some cars tonight. That was insane. 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. Congrats to Erik (Jones). His first win. I can’t imagine what it feels like. I remember mine vividly. Congrats to him and his team. It’s pretty cool to see. I wish it was us. But if you’re going to lose to someone, a first-time winner and Erik is a good one to lose to. Especially in your worst track and your worst race. Thanks to everyone at Toyota and 5-hour ENERGY, Bass Pro Shops and everyone who makes this possible. Wish I could have got it tonight.”
What could you have done different about the last restart?
“I think if I just blocked the 95, I control the race from there. We got two-wide and it got behind us. I just messed up there. Just sleeping I guess. I knew he was coming. I just didn’t block fast enough. Me and my spotters have to be better but this is the first time we had a car that strong. I feel like we have something we can build on.”
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