Race Wrap Up: Erik Jones survives wild race at Daytona for first career win
On a wild night that saw five multi-car crashes and two overtimes, Erik Jones somehow made it through the chaos and won Saturday's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. For Jones, it was career win No. 1 in the Monster Energy Cup Series and locked him into the 2018 playoffs.
Jones only led one lap, but it was the one that counted, as he drove around the outside of Martin Truex Jr. on the backstretch to take the lead and the win. After the race, Jones, overcome with emotion, couldn't help but think about his late father Dave, and the sacrifices he made to launch his racing career.
"So I was, I don't know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old," Jones said. "One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, 'man, why did you do that?' And he's like, "well, we've got to fund the racing somehow.
"That wasn't the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were — chances that were taken financially to get me to this point. But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool.
Jones became the first driver to earn his first career win at Daytona since David Ragan accomplished the feat in 2011.
How Jones won the race: Surviving. No, but seriously, just getting through the carnage allowed Jones to put his No. 20 Toyota in position to battle for the win in the closing stages. After pushing Truex to the lead on the first overtime restart, Jones restarted on the front row for the second attempt to finish under green.
After taking the white flag, Jones got a big push from JTG-Daugherty's Chris Buescher and rocketed to the lead down the backstretch and easily held off Truex to take the win.
"Shoot, I kind of thought we were out of it for a minute when the 95 (Kasey Kahne) got up in front of us and started racing with the 78 (Truex)," Jones said. "But I saw the 37 (Buescher) getting a big run, and I was thinking, man I sure hope he sticks with me because he could have just as easily split to the bottom and probably made a run to make it three-wide on everybody. When we got clear of the 78, I knew we were in a pretty good spot because he didn't have a lot of help after that."
Stenhouse vs the world: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is acclaimed as one of the sport's best at the restrictor plate tracks. His aggression often gives Stenhouse an edge over competitors hesitant to make the necessary moves to get to the front. But Saturday night, Stenhouse's aggressive drafting drew the ire of his competitors as he was part of at least three big wrecks.
On Lap 55, William Byron threw a "bad" block on Brad Keselowski, forcing Keselowski to slow and he was turned by Stenhouse. The end result was a 20-car pileup starting at the front of the field that took out several contenders, including Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.
Keselowski, who was turned by Stenhouse, said the Roush Fenway driver wasn't at fault thanks to Byron's block. Just a few laps after the ensuing restart, Stenhouse attempted to side draft with Kyle Busch in Turn 4. He got just a bit too close and turned Busch into Byron and collected several others exiting Turn 4. Busch put the blame on Stenhouse for both
"Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash," Busch said. "You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and try to figure out when and where and hope that you can walk away from it."
Thank you to everybody @StewartHaasRcng, car was fast. Sucks we got caught up in the #StenhouseDD (DemolitionDerby) but it's a product of him being 17th in points and racing "for every point" pic.twitter.com/ai2rej6AhY— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) July 8, 2018
I love how aggressive Stenhouse is all the time. I love how it doesn't matter if it's practice or the last lap of a race. He's going for it, cus he's a kickass driver. But I saw this on @NASCARonReddit & I can't stop laughing. pic.twitter.com/TWvMrgZZgn— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) July 8, 2018
SOURCES: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been involved in two golf cart crashes and a rental car shunt trying to get across the street to the Daytona airport. #NASCAR— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) July 8, 2018
Well... not exactly how i thought it would go. My team had an unbelievable car. I Made too many mistakes that took out too many racecars. Hate the fans had to see their drivers get caught up in it. On the other hand my team fought hard and gave it all we got.— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (@StenhouseJr) July 8, 2018
Despite leading a race-high 51 laps, Stenhouse's night ended with a torn-up Ford and a 17th-place finish.
Daytona destruction: Big wrecks are nothing new at Daytona, but Saturday night's race was particularly destructive. When the checkered flag flew, 20 cars — half the field — were retired from the race with crash damage, and according to the race report, THIRTY-FIVE cars were involved in crashes!
Things were so bad this weekend that Dale Earnhardt Jr. told anyone needing to get rid of their junked car to just bring it by his racecar graveyard.
Not tryin to be a vulture in hard times but the race car graveyard is always happy to take any cars from last nights race that are beyond repair. See me or Sonny or just leave it at the gate. Thanks ????— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 8, 2018
Time will tell if anyone takes Dale up on the offer.
Underdogs' delight: As ugly as the carnage can be at Daytona, there's almost always at least one really good underdog story at race's end. And sure enough, we had a few Saturday night.
JTG-Daugherty Racing saw both of their teams bring home top-five finishes, and Go FAS Racing's Matt DiBenedetto brought his No. 32 home in seventh. Ty Dillon scored his first top 10, and Jeffrey Earnhardt came home 11th in the No. 7 car.
And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Michael McDowell's strong run. The veteran has long been an underrated restrictor plate
NASCAR salutes: In what has become a tradition at the World Center of Racing, NASCAR pulled the cars back onto pit road during the pace laps Saturday night. Members from each branch of the military stood alongside the edge of the pit lane as crew members, officials and fans stood to honor them before the race began.
In the Xfinity Series, drivers carried the names of active military members and groups on their windshields as part of the NASCAR Salutes program.
I'm honoring The 20th Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force this weekend for #NASCARSalutes! This means a ton to me because Sam Ard, who I honored at Darlington last year, was a mechanic on their planes at Shaw Air Force Base! Then went on to become a two-time NXS champ! pic.twitter.com/TsorOH8a49— Cole Custer (@ColeCuster_) July 6, 2018
Junior + Jeff = A winning combination: We're just two races into Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s transition to television, and so far, things are going great. After giving the racing world hearty fun with his infectious "slide job" at Chicago, Earnhardt again made things fun at Daytona with his ability to keep it simple for the fans at home.
Earnhardt's infectious enthusiasm was on full display Saturday night, as he even hopped on Twitter during a red flag to tell everyone how much fun he was having during the race. When you combine Junior's fun-loving nature with Jeff Burton's knowledge, it's easy to see why both drivers were widely respected among their peers before retiring.
Man I'm having such a good time!! @NASCARonNBC— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) July 8, 2018
It's unlikely that every race will give these two as much action, but right now, Dale is bringing something we don't see often from television networks.
Kyle's congratulations: You may recall it was none other than Kyle Busch who helped get Erik Jones started up the ranks in NASCAR after racing with him back in 2012.
Jones, who was just 16 at the time, muscled the win away from Kyle Busch in the Snowball Derby, prompting Busch to recognize how talented Jones was from the start. The rest, as they say, is history as Jones went on to win seven races and the 2015 Truck Series championship for Busch before moving to the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Shortly after Saturday night's race, Busch posted a photo with Jones after that Snowball Derby in 2012, congratulating his teammate on his first career win.
I'm proud of you @erik_jones. I knew the day I met you and then when you beat me at the snowball derby that you had so much talent. You've had to overcome a lot these past few years but you are a fighter. I'm proud of you and know your Dad is up there celebrating! ?? pic.twitter.com/DduSazOaeW— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) July 8, 2018
Next week: Things will return to normal this week with the running of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. Don't be surprised if one of the big three returns to victory lane Saturday night, but there is a fun trend we'll be following Saturday: Brad Keselowski is unbeaten in even years at Kentucky. Can he finally get his first win of 2018? PRN will be your home for all the action in the Bluegrass State! We'll also have live coverage of Friday night's