Erik Jones Puts Iconic 43 Back Into Darlington Victory Lane

Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

Last week I said that Erik Jones was my sleeper driver to turn the tables on the playoffs and he did it in rare form.

Also in hardly difficult territory, I called out Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick as drivers most likely to challenge for the win.

Let’s see, Larson had an issue that caused him pit and go three laps down, MTJ had a water pump go out, Harvick caught on fire, Hamlin finished second and Logano led 64 laps.

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And you think that was a weird night? Chase Elliott wrecked all on his own, Kyle Busch had an engine blow under caution while leading the race and Larson got back on the lead lap with all the wave arounds.

The leader attrition put Jones in front after racing in the Top 10 most of the night. He held off Denny Hamlin for the final laps and put the 43 back into Victory Lane at Darlington for the first time since 1967 and the first win since 2014. As prestigious as the Southern 500 is, Jones has now won it twice in his young career.

Harvick was particularly outspoken about the end to his night. An obviously upset Harvick blamed “crappy parts” for the fire that forced him out of the race. In addition that that comment, he and others, notably Kyle Busch, have recently been vocal about the severity of the crashes in the new Next Gen car. While it appears to certainly race well and it has the ability to take a hit, that has come at the cost of driver absorbing more of the impact. It will be interesting to see how NASCAR moves forward with the fire and crash issues.

In the end, it was a night of shake ups in the playoff round. Harvick is now in a must win situation for Kansas or Bristol. With two races left, I guess it is possible he could point his way out if 4 drivers ahead of him crashed out early in the final two races of this round, but that is highly unlikely.

I don’t see Austin Cindric or Austin Dillon as threats to Harvick other than they are ahead in points. Two good races for him at Kansas and Bristol might be what cures his ails for this round. That and bad luck for Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.

Good on ya, Mate

  • Erik Jones (P1) for a great win.
  • Denny Hamlin (P2) said the only way around Jones was to have gone through him. Kyle Larson would have.
  • Tyler Reddick (P3) is proving he deserves to be there.
  • Joey Logano (P4) led 64 laps but is the points leader right now.
  • Christopher Bell (P5) hung in the Top 10 all night but pissed off Suarez while doing it.
  • Michael McDowell (P6) had a strong night.
  • Brad Keselowski (P7) needs to repeat this performance for us to believe in him at all.
  • William Byron (P8) led 50 laps and won Stage 1.
  • Bubba Wallace (P9) is there to fight for Toyota to win the manufacturers championship.
  • Alex Bowman (P10) did better than I thought he would.
  • Kyle Larson (P12) was three laps down and in dangerous territory before the engine gremlins went away.
  • Ryan Blaney (P13) was all right and that is about all you can say.

So you had a bad day

  • Chase Elliott (P36) was the points leader going in and showed everyone what a weird night it was going to be.
  • Kevin Harvick (P33) was on fire. And not in the good way.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (P31) lost and engine with 31 laps remaining.
  • Kyle Busch (P30) had his engine puke 9 laps later, under caution no less, after leading 155 laps.
  • Daniel Suarez (P18) had a run in with Bell that may come back to haunt the 20 car.

Next up: Kansas

Logano is at the top of the charts right now but Kansas is not his best track but he does have three career wins, but none since 2020. Since 2020 he has three Top 20s, one Top 30 and two Top 10s with a win. But a Top 15 might be all he needs to stay ahead of the others.

Denny Hamlin also has an up and down relationship with Kansas with 2 wins and a string of Top 10 finishes punctuated by Top 20s.

MTJ has 6 straight and ten out of eleven Top 10 finishes with 2 wins.

Chase Elliott has a win and seven of the last ten as Top 10 finishes.

Kyle Larson has just six of the last ten in the Top 10 but perhaps more telling, two straight Top 2 finishes with a win in 2021. He’s also led the most laps of any current driver.

Alex Bowman also has just six of the last ten as Top 10 finishes, his best a runner up in 2019. This spring he was 9th.

Kevin Harvick has eleven out of the last 15 finishes in the Top 10. That includes 4 runner up finishes and 2 wins. This spring he was 15th, he’ll need to do better than that this week. Prior to that, he had 4 straight Top 5 finishes.

This could come down to a duel between Harvick, MTJ and Larson.  Who’s your pick?

Read more of my articles here.

(Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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