Erik Jones wins Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

·3 min read

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Sunday’s opening night of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs produced drama, damage and distress — all on the big stage of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway.

At the end of a long and zany evening, Petty GMS driver Erik Jones — not among the 16 playoff drivers — emerged from the fire and frustration to win the 500, a major upset to open NASCAR’s playoff run.

After numerous playoff drivers had issues, Jones had the lead on a green-flag restart with 21 laps remaining. He jumped to a one-second lead on the first lap of green and held off second-place Denny Hamlin at the finish. Tyler Reddick was third.

A significant chunk of the sport’s playoff drivers endured trouble — large and small. And fiery.

The night’s biggest issue landed squarely on the Chevrolet of playoff standings leader Chase Elliott, who entered the playoffs with a 15-point edge over second place. Elliott finished last after he lost control of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on lap 113. Elliott’s car sailed into the outside wall in Turn 3 and then was hit by Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Darlington Cup results

Elliott’s team tried to complete repairs under the right rear of the car but ran out of time as the Damaged Vehicle Policy forced the No. 9 to park for the night.

By night’s end, Elliott was far from alone in the ugliness. Seven of the other 15 playoff drivers had problems, including former champion Kevin Harvick, who left the race after his car erupted in flames, leading him to angrily criticize NASCAR. Also parked was two-time champion Kyle Busch, who led 155 laps and appeared headed to his first Southern 500 victory before his Toyota’s engine expired with 23 laps remaining.

Briscoe, also a playoff contender, stayed in the race after the incident with Elliott but lost three laps.

The first major problem impacting a playoff driver occurred on lap 78 when defending champion Kyle Larson, fourth-seeded entering the playoffs, dropped onto pit road and lost three laps while his crew worked under the hood of the No. 5 Chevrolet. After service, Larson seemed to run competitive laps, but he returned to the track in 35th position. Later, on lap 193, Larson lost control of his car and backed into the wall exiting Turn 4. He rebounded from three laps down to race on the lead lap.

Near the end of Stage 1, trouble hit again within the playoff group as Elliott’s Chevrolet and Briscoe’s Ford were damaged.

Harvick saw his night end in a haze of fire and smoke on lap 277 of 367. Fire erupted under both sides of the No. 4 car, forcing Harvick, fighting smoke within the car, to park on the track apron and climb hurriedly through the driver-side window.

Harvick, who previously had criticized NASCAR for what he called safety issues with the Next Gen car, had pointed comments again in the garage area after he parked. He said the fire started despite the fact that he had not hit the wall or another car, blaming it on parts.

The win was the third of Jones’ career. The victory returned the famous No. 43, which carried Richard Petty to dozens of victories across the country, to victory lane.

William Byron won the first stage, his first stage win since April. Joey Logano led 64 laps during the stage to 48 for Byron.

Kyle Busch won the second stage in front of his teammate, Martin Truex Jr. Through two stages, Busch had led 82 laps to 64 for Logano.

Stage 1 winner: William Byron

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

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Darlington Raceway Cup results: Erik Jones wins Southern 500 Kevin Harvick critical of NASCAR, Next Gen car after fire Chase Elliott finishes last in Southern 500 after crash

Erik Jones wins Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway originally appeared on NBCSports.com