Erik Jones made a mad dash to the finish on another restart to snatch the title in a crash-filled Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“What an awesome day,” he said afterward. “It’s a first win. There’s not much better than this one.”
It was the 22-year-old’s first Cup victory, and it came with all sorts of drama.
Jones passed Martin Truex Jr. with about a lap remaining after one of several earlier wrecks denied Truex from what looked like a sure victory.
On what would have been the last lap, with Truex apparently headed for the win, a major pile-up developed that claimed Jimmie Johnson, with Bubba Wallace and Clint Bowyer initiating the mess.
Jones was in second place trailing Truex at the time of that near-finish mark. The only lap Jones led was the last one.
“It was a lot of hard work to be here,” he said of Victory Lane.
The 160-lap race around the 2.5-mile tri-oval was an adventure for most of the night.
AJ Allmendinger finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.
Shortly before the wreck on the initial would-be final lap, Kahne and Kevin Harvick were side-by-side with six laps to go when another wreck caused a significant delay with cars spread around the infield. That spill took out Aric Almirola, among others.
That put the race into what NASCAR calls overtime because it couldn’t end under caution.
At one juncture in the final third of the race, Truex emerged into the lead despite being outside the top 20 not too much earlier.
“I didn’t think we had a shot to win it there about halfway,” Jones said.
Only nine races remain in the regular season. This was the final restrictor-plate race prior to the playoffs, which begin in September.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was the race’s defending champion, was involved in two of the wrecks, the first involving 22 cars in some way or another on lap 54.
Still, Stenhouse managed to lead 51 laps during the race — more than twice as many as any other driver.
“When one car sits sideways in front of the field at 200 mph, you can’t get through it,” driver Joey Logano said of the mishaps.
Johnson led for a season-high 10 laps but was pretty much out of contention when with less than 40 laps to go he was assessed a one-lap penalty for a pit-road violation. He pitted outside the designated box. Johnson finished 23rd.
Kyle Larson, who won the Xfinity Series race Friday night, was out in a crash with Stenhouse. Larson, coming off a second-place finish last weekend at Chicagoland, exited with a torn-up tire and a visit to the medical center.
“There was a ton of torn-up cars so I figured we’d be able to salvage something,” Larson said, not knowing there would be a few more added to the wreckage by night’s end.
Stenhouse won the first stage, taking the lead from pole-sitter Chase Elliott on the 14th lap.
Elliott was on the pole on the front with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman.
After rookie William Byron took the lead, a wreck on the 57th didn’t impact the front group. Eight laps later, Byron and Kyle Busch were involved and the caution resulted in Byron losing his spot.
Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon didn’t seem to be much of a factor, but he made it to the end of the night and finished ninth. He hasn’t won since his season-opening victory.
—Field Level Media