Erik Jones gets first victory at action-packed Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 07: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota, and Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Toyota, race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service  

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – 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.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JULY 07: Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Toyota, applies the winner’s sticker in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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!”

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.”

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. 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.

Larson gets wild overtime win at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Friday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race ended with a sweep, and overtime and two broken hearts.

Five laps later than the scheduled 100, Kyle Larson got the victory in the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 by .005 seconds over Elliott Sadler, who finished second at Daytona for the third straight race.

But Larson’s victory wasn’t official until NASCAR demoted Justin Haley, who made a dramatic pass for the lead coming to the finish line but dipped below the yellow line dividing the racing surface from the apron, a violation of NASCAR rules.

Though Haley took the checkered flag, he was demoted to the 18th position at the finish, behind the car on the lead lap. With Haley’s finish nullified by penalty, Larson won for the third time in four starts this season and the 11th time in his career, edging Sadler by roughly 12 inches.

Larson didn’t realize he had won the race after seeing Haley dive to the inside and rush past both him and Sadler in the trioval.

“I didn’t even think I’d won until I got to the lug nut check, and they had a big screen down there,” Larson said. “And I saw a little bit of the replay and saw that he went a clipped the yellow line, so I asked about it, and they said NASCAR was talking about it, and about 10 seconds later we were declared the winner…”

Sadler, who has never won at Daytona, had run second to JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick by .0004 seconds in February, the closest recorded margin in NASCAR history.

“This one hurts,” said the 43-year-old Sadler, whose status with JRM for 2019 remains uncertain because of sponsorship issues. “I don’t know how many restrictor-plate races I have left in my career. To lose the one like we did in February, so close, I feel like we were in the right spot again.

“We were really paying attention to Kyle and trying to figure out what he was doing off of (Turn) 4, and he was really running into my door a lot and trying to slow me down. And I was trying to leave myself room to get away from him. And it was just a miscommunication that the 24 (Haley) was coming on the bottom. I could have definitely made a block there and got some momentum.”

Haley, who earned his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory earlier this season was tantalizingly close to victory in just his second Xfinity start.

“Not how we wanted it to end,” Haley said. “I’m running trucks full-season, and this is just an opportunity part-time, and I’m extremely blessed just to get the opportunity.”

A nine-car wreck on Lap 97 knocked out series leader Cole Custer and forced the overtime. Sadler’s lone consolation was retaking the points lead by 12 over Daniel Hemric, who moved into second place.

A violent multicar wreck on Lap 82 eliminated the contending cars of Austin Cindric, Matt Tifft and Reddick and damaged the vehicles of Custer and Hemric.

Heading through Turn 1, Tifft, with a strong push from Reddick, made a move toward a hole to the inside of Cindric, but the hole closed, and contact between Tifft’s and Cindric’s cars ignited the chain-reaction wreck.

Cindric’s No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford turned sideways and barrel-rolled back down the track after contact with Reddick’s No. 9 Chevrolet on the steep banking in the corner. Cindric was unhurt in the accident, but his race was over.

“I’m fine,” Cindric said after exiting the care center. “It’s just unfortunate. We have such a strong run like that, and it comes to an end early. There are plenty of things I can complain about, but I have to be thankful that Roush and NASCAR and everybody else who puts safety first really comes to fruition in situations like that.

“It’s definitely the biggest wreck I’ve ever had. It’s unfortunate I keep having those at Daytona. I’ve got to quit going to this infield care center here. I know all the people and all the faces. They’re very nice, but it’s just a shame.”

Racing in the series for the fourth this season, Ryan Preece started from the pole in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing as the owner points leader, after qualifying was rained out on Friday afternoon. But JGR’s quest for the owners’ championship took a serious hit when Preece retired from the race in 39th place after 51 laps because of a mechanical failure.

“We must have got a piece of debris go through the radiator, and we lost all of the water,” Preece explained after climbing from the car. “It cooked the motor down. Unfortunate. I felt like we were starting to make our way forward and start to work the draft.

“Just started to figure out what we needed to move forward and ended our night early. I hate it for these guys because of the owner points. They will drop some points in there today but hopefully we can make it up in New Hampshire.”