In a wild war of attrition that went to two overtimes, Erik Jones outdueled Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway to seize the first victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
In a Coke Zero Sugar 400 that went eight laps beyond its scheduled 160, Jones passed the reigning series champion on the backstretch of the final lap and held on to win by .125 seconds. Jones battled back from damage sustained in a multicar wreck on Lap 65, an accident that cost him a lap.
The final circuit was the only one Jones led.
“How about that race, boys and girls?” Jones shouted to the fans in the grandstands after his celebratory burnout in front of the flag stand. “My first Cup win, my first win at Daytona, my first superspeedway win — what an awesome day, man!
“There’s so much smoke in the car from that burnout, I can hardly breathe, but what an awesome finish.”
AJ Allmendinger ran third after a nine-car wreck ended the first overtime attempt with Truex approaching the finish line just short of the end of the white-flag lap. That wreck provided the coup de grace for Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Trevor Bayne.
Only 20 of the 40 cars that started the race were running at the finish, and only 13 finished on the lead lap. Kasey Kahne came home fourth after leading 17 laps, and Chris Buescher ran fifth, matching his finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.
With a push from Kahne, Truex got the lead after the final restart on Lap 167 but couldn’t hold it. The outside lane was more organized as the final lap unfolded, and Jones got a strong run through Turns 1 and 2.
“He ([Jones] got a big run getting into [Turn] 1 and through the center, and I just didn’t block him good enough in the middle of 1 and 2,” Truex said. “He got to my right rear quarter — just barely — enough to slow me down off of 2, and then the race was on from there.
“Just missed that block a little bit. I’ve got to get better at my mirror-driving. I’ve never really been good at that, and unfortunately, that’s part of this racing here, but I’m really proud to get to the end.”
Truex had posted only one other top-five finish — a second in the 2016 Daytona 500 — in 26 previous starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Two massive wrecks in Stage 2, both involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr., eliminated the majority of the contending cars and opened the door for a new winner.
On Lap 54, Brad Keselowski was running behind leader William Byron when his No. 2 Ford turned off the front bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Fusion, slammed into the No. 41 of Kurt Busch and ignited a Turn 3 wreck that involved 24 cars and wiped out all three Team Penske entries, along with Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and pole winner Chase Elliott.
But Keselowski didn’t blame Stenhouse. He pointed the finger at Byron, who moved down the track to put a late block on the No. 2 and forced Keselowski to check up.
“Ricky was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead, and the car in front of me [Byron] just threw a late, bad block,” Keselowski said. “I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him, and that’s my fault.
“I’ve got to wreck more people, and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. That’s my fault. I’ll take the credit for my team, and we’ll go to Talladega, and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”
Byron didn’t stay up front for long. He was leading again on Lap 65 when Stenhouse tapped the left rear of series leader Kyle Busch’s Toyota and sent the No. 18 Camry spinning into Byron’s Chevrolet. Both Byron and Busch were knocked out of the race in that accident.
“I tried to side-draft the 18 [Busch] in the wrong place,” a subdued Stenhouse said on his team radio.
Byron lost a good chance to improve on his 21st position in the standings.
“The No. 17 car [Stenhouse] just kind of, I guess, hooked the No. 18 into me,” Byron said. “It seemed like he was being really aggressive, and that’s the second time we’ve kind of been on the wrong end of something with him.
“Unfortunate for us, but we had a good race going. We needed to really have a really good day, because of the points position we’re in, but that is just part of speedway racing, I guess. But it stinks to be on that side of it. But at least we led some laps (12), so that was good.”
Notes: Stenhouse won the first and second stages, garnering his first playoff points of the season, before sustaining serious damage in a Lap 124 wreck. He finished 17th, one lap down. … Harvick’s No. 4 team did yeoman work to repair his car after it suffered extensive body damage in the Lap 54 accident. Harvick led the field to green on Lap 162 to start the first overtime, but he fell victim to the nine-car wreck before that circuit was completed. … Despite a 33rd-place finish, Kyle Busch retained the series lead by 57 points over Harvick.