NASCAR at Darlington: Erik Jones, Petty Win Southern 500 as Playoff Drivers Stumble | NASCAR

The start of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs was supposed to be all about the 16 drivers vying for the championship. Instead, the spotlight shined on Jones, who captured his first win of the season and the first for the Petty GMS team since the July 2014 race in Daytona. This is also the 200th victory for the No. 43 machine.

It was 55 years ago today that Richard Petty won at Darlington. This is the third career win for Jones, and his second Southern 500 victory.

“Richard told me I get a hat if I win,” Jones said after the race. “He hasn’t been to Victory Lane at Darlington probably since he last won here though. It’s just awesome. So proud of these guys. We’ve been so close all year, and I didn’t think today was going to be the day. It was going to be a tough one to win, but no better fitting place. I love this track. I love this race.”

“On that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it on there twice, that’s pretty cool. We had a lot of good stuff go our way. We got the lead there with Kyle losing a motor, and we’ve got a good shot if we can just get clear, and we had a good car, we just weren’t quite with the pace of some of those guys up front. We took the lead and could just run hard, and those last two laps I was losing the balance a lot. I had been running really hard. But it was just enough. So, just really proud.”

2022 Cook Out Southern 500 – Race Results
Pos  Driver  Team  Manufacturer
1 Erik Jones Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet
2 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
3 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
4 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford
5 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
6 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford
7 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford
8 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
9 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota
10 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
11 Aric Almirola Stewart Haas Racing Ford
12 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
13 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford
14 Cole Custer Stewart Haas Racing Ford
15 Ty Gibbs 23XI Racing Toyota
16 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford
17 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
18 Daniel Suarez TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet
19 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet
20 Ross Chastain TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet
21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford
22 Ty Dillon Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet
23 Daniel Hemric Kaulig Racing Chevrolet
24 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
25 Landon Cassill Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
26 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford
27 Chase Briscoe Stewart Haas Racing Ford
28 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford
29 BJ McLeod Live Fast Motorsports Ford
30 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
31 Martin Truex Jr Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
32 Cody Ware Rick Ware Racing Ford
33 Kevin Harvick Stewart Haas Racing Ford
34 JJ Yeley Rick Ware Racing Ford
35 Ricky Stenhouse Jr JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
36 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

What makes this win even sweeter for Jones is that he was able to outlast and outperform the Joe Gibbs Racing cars, where he used to drive. The drama really kicked up a notch when race leader Martin Truex Jr lost power steering with just 35 laps remaining. After being arguably the strongest car all night, the No. 19 Toyota was forced to go to the garage.

Then, more chaos for the JGR organization.

While running under yellow, Martin’s teammate Kyle Busch inherited the lead. His No. 18 Camry then began to smoke, ending his night after winning Stage 2 and leading 155 laps. “It’s unfortunate circumstances,” Busch said. “We just had a great car and didn’t come out with anything to show for it. That’s what I hate about it.”

It was a brutal five-minute stretch for the organization, but they still had one ace up their sleeve.

Denny Hamlin is the master of winning crown jewel races. The four-time Darlington winner found himself in 2nd place, chasing down Jones as the laps clicked away. Jones did not crack though, holding his line and thwarting off Hamlin’s challenge. It was a magical moment for Jones and the Petty organization.

Hamlin gave it his best shot, but he just wasn’t able to get alongside Jones to make a pass. “Not to make excuses, but you just can’t pass. No one is making passes inside 15 to go when everyone has new tires. There’s just not enough lap time fall off. It’s not like the Xfinity race. There’s just too much on-throttle time to really capitalize. I almost got there though. I needed maybe a few more laps but just not enough.”

“I plowed tight,” Hamlin continued. “We did really good keeping our track position. We really just needed this race to go green longer. When we went long, we were really catching the field. My long run pace was so good, and then we fired off extremely fast on that last green flag stop, and I really liked where we were at. We just weren’t good on the short run.”

The night was also all about the misfortune for most of the playoff drivers. None of the 16 drivers ended up winning the race and half of the 16 finished outside of the top 15 tonight.

As the regular season champion, Chase Elliott came into tonight’s race with a commanding 25-point lead in the standings. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a disastrous night at Darlington, as he spun by himself on Lap 113 and slid up and into the wall, collecting Chase Briscoe. The team tried to repair the No. 9 Chevrolet on pit road, but the 10-minute DVP clock expired and his night was done.

The 36th place finish was a major gut punch, but the second-generation driver remains optimistic heading to Kansas. “I hit the wall there in Turn 2 and broke something in the right rear,” Elliott said. “We definitely need to just run better than we did today.” Chase now sits 9th in the standings, 14 points above the cut-off line.

Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson also had some trouble earlier in the race. The No. 5 Chevrolet came down pit road and the crew popped the hood to look at the engine. It appeared as though Larson would suffer an engine-related DNF for the second week in a row, but the issue magically disappeared as the race continued.

Unfortunately, there was more trouble on the horizon for the reigning series champion. Larson crashed on Lap 193 but the good news was he was able to eventually get back on the lead lap, and salvaged a 12th place finish. He is now 7th in the playoff standings, 17 points above the cut-off line.

Playoff drivers Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, and Christopher Bell rounded out the top five on Sunday. Hendrick teammates William Byron (8th) and Alex Bowman (10th) were the only other playoff drivers to finish inside the top-ten. Those three remaining spots were filled by Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, and Bubba Wallace.

The scariest moment of the race tonight came with 93 laps to go when Kevin Harvick came to a stop and his No. 4 Mustang erupted into flames. His 33rd place finish tonight puts him into the bottom-four heading into next weekend. The Stewart Haas Racing driver was furious with NASCAR’s safety efforts.

“I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going. The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up. What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned up car and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

While the focus was on the woes of the playoff drivers, tonight was a feel-good story for Jones and the new-look Petty organization.

“That’s the calmest I’ve been in the race car going for a win,” Jones said. “I think back to the last time winning here, and I was driving my guts out, my nerves were pounding, my stomach was hurting, and today it was just business as usual. I knew Denny would run me clean and knew it was going to be tough for him to pass. It was tough to pass all day, and we got a good restart there. Man, what a dream come true. That’s all you can say. I never lost any belief in myself through any of it. I knew I could still do it, and I just knew we needed to grow the program to do it, and we have.”

Logano takes over the lead in the standings with Byron in second place, just six points behind. The four drivers below the cut-off line are Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Briscoe, and Harvick.

2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings  
Pos  Driver  Team  Manufacturer Points
1 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 65
2 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 59
3 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 57
4 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 55
5 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 50
6 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 47
7 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 44
8 Ross Chastain TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet 42
9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 41
10 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 37
11 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 35
12 Daniel Suarez TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet 29
13 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 27
14 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 25
15 Chase Briscoe Stewart Haas Racing Ford 19
16 Kevin Harvick Stewart Haas Racing Ford 16

The Penske driver was pleased to take over the top spot in the standings, but badly wanted to sweep the two Darlington races. “It’s a solid day but a missed opportunity is probably where I would put it. With so many others having trouble, every time you come to the Southern 500, especially in the playoffs, you’ve just got to survive and you get a solid finish. That’s what we were able to do is finish 4th after so many teams had issues.”

“It’s really hard to come up through the field here. It’s really hard to pass and was able to kind of battle back and get a top five out of it, which is okay. I mean, you’ve got to be happy about it because we scored a lot of points and that’s what it’s all about here in the first round, but also a missed opportunity to win the Southern 500 and I really want that one. That one stings a little bit because I think we were better than the cars in front of us if we had the air.”

The opening race of the playoffs did not disappoint, and the standings saw quite the shuffle. Drivers will try to rebound next weekend, where another opportunity to advance to the Round of 12 awaits at Kansas Speedway. Coverage for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 begins at 3 PM ET on USA Network.

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