Race Weekend Central

Erik Jones Plays Playoff Spoiler, Emerges Late to Win Southern 500

For the first time in eight years, Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 is back in victory lane.

On Sunday (Sept. 4), Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones led the final 20 laps to win the NASCAR Cup Series’ Cook Out Southern 500 at legendary Darlington Raceway. It is Jones’ first Cup win of 2022, the third of his career and his second in NASCAR’s oldest and most storied speedway race. He becomes only the second driver in the elimination-playoff era to win a playoff race without being a part of the original 16-driver field.

Under a late caution for Cody Ware’s crash, a quick stop from the No. 43 crew let Jones jump Tyler Reddick for second place, capping off what would have been a strong, if quiet, top-five run.

Then, unbelievably, under caution with 23 laps to go, the dominant No. 18 car of Kyle Busch erupted in smoke from the lead.

That left Jones out front in the Southern 500. 

For the next 20 laps, “That Jones Boy” held off four-time Darlington winner and playoff contender Denny Hamlin, taking the checkered flag by only a few car lengths to claim the No. 43’s first Darlington win in exactly 55 years.

The easygoing Jones seemed to be in disbelief, taking a second to collect his thoughts after the race.

“I get a hat,” said Jones to NBC Sports from the frontstretch. “[Richard Petty] told me I get a hat if I win. Richard hasn’t been to victory lane at Darlington probably since he last won here … just so proud of our guys at Petty GMS … man, we’ve been so close here and there all year. I didn’t think today was going to be the day … it was going to be a tough one to win, I knew, but no better fitting place.”

Reddick backed up his second-place run in Darlington’s spring race to finish third, followed by fellow playoff competitors Joey Logano and Christopher Bell. Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman rounded out an unlikely top 10.

After missing the playoffs a week ago by only three points, Martin Truex Jr. entered the Southern 500 weekend determined to be a spoiler. For much of the evening, it looked like he would. 

On three separate occasions, Truex drove up and passed his playoff-eligible teammate Busch for the race lead, holding a commanding advantage of over four seconds inside of 40 laps to go. 

But suddenly, heartbreak happened. Truex radioed to his team that the No. 19 Camry had lost power steering and the temperature gauge was creeping over 300 degrees. He lost his four-second lead in just two laps and on lap 336, he took the car behind the wall. 

“It’s been tough, and this is another tough night for sure,” Truex told NBC Sports from the garage. “I’m just mad, upset, angry. We deserve better, and this year it seems no matter what we do, it’s wrong. When we run good, stuff goes wrong, and when we run bad, nothing bad happens.”

The 2017 Cup champion finished the night outside the top 30.

An eventful first stage saw a caution for rain on lap 6 and trouble for Kyle Larson before a crash between playoff competitors Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe ended the stage under yellow with three laps to go. Elliott was eliminated with damage.

Byron scored his first stage win in the last 16 races after passing polesitter Logano 66 laps in. 

The playoff driver struggles continued in stage two. While Busch grabbed the lead on the pit cycle and opened up a gap, Ross Chastain made multiple green-flag pit stops to diagnose a handling issue while Larson spun by himself on the exit of turn 4. 

See also
Multiple Mechanical Failures Put Top NASCAR Playoff Drivers on the Postseason Back Foot

Despite a late-stage challenge from Truex, Busch took the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 230 for his third stage win of the season as all heck broke loose behind them.

Stage three wasn’t any easier for the championship contenders. Kevin Harvick was on track for a quiet top-10 day until, on lap 275, midway through a cycle of green-flag pit stops, the No. 4 Mustang spontaneously burst into flames, the fourth Ford fire since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. 

Harvick stopped the car and got out safely, but the No. 4 team was done for the night, a fact the 2014 champion was none too happy about, speaking to Frontstretch’s Dalton Hopkins and others outside his hauler.

“[The] rocker panel just caught on fire,” Harvick said. “We just keep letting cars burn up, letting people crash into stuff, get hurt… we don’t fix anything […] they [NASCAR] don’t care, it’s cheaper to not fix it.”

2022 Southern 500 Results

2022 NASCAR Cup Series Standings After Darlington

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 16 continues next Sunday (Sept. 11) with the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, airing at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: DARLINGTON

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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Ken

Congrats to Erik Jones! That team has been looking better and better all season. Happy to see them get the win tonight.

DoninAjax

I wonder if Baby Busch got the wrong gear when he had his engine problem? He was on a pace lap when it happened.

Does anyone else see Robby Gordon when they see Erik?

Dale EarnHog

So happy for Erik and that whole team. Always a party when the Petty #43 wins. Heartbroken for Truex though, you could tell how badly he wanted this one.

Mike

Congratulations Erik and the #43 crew!

Bill B

Glad to see a non-playoff driver win. Glad to see someone that has been running above expectations most of the season finally get a win. Congrats to Eric and the 43 team.

JD in NC

Very happy for Erik and the 43 team. I saw him in his first cup race in 2015 at Bristol when he subbed for Hamlin after the rain delay. Great to see the 200th win for the number 43.

Steve C

Great job by Eric Jones! The good thing about this ” spec car” is it has obviously allowed talent to shine that otherwise would not because of $$$. The bad part is, na$car overdone it with it’s quest to be ” up to date technical”. It’s a mix of ok design and horrible ideas implemented in an oval track car. And finally, did anyone else notice the bragging about the ” sold out” seats? Is na$car that desperate for an image of superiority in racing? Technically, it was a sellout according to the seats they offered. The whole backstretch was closed down. For years I chose b.s. seating for many reasons- convenient to my camping, restaurants, the museum, ect. I guess those days are gone as well. Sold out- has several meanings now. I just despise their smoke and mirror tactics. Harvick will be in trouble for being truthful.

Carl D.

Harvick really doesn’t have much to lose.  His championship run is basically over.  What are they gonna do, fine him?  Ha!  Better for Harvick to tell it like it is, whether NASCAR likes it or not.

Bill B

While I would be fine with Harvick’s championship run being over, I am not ready to count him out yet. Especially with how random car part failure was last night.
I think NASCAR is just going to ignore his rant. I will say that the parity that everyone has talked about is the result of unpredictability with the new car (which includes it’s parts).

Mr Yeppers

Same situation at Daytona. Bragging now every year that its “sold out” while failing to mention they have removed something like 60,000 seats in the last 5-7 years or so.

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