Jones returns legendary No. 43 to Darlington’s Victory Lane 55 years after Richard Petty
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Erik Jones held off Denny Hamlin to win the 73rd running of the Cook Out Southern 500 and place the No. 43 car back into Victory Lane 55 years to the day, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty celebrated his final Darlington Raceway victory.
The King dominated the 1967 Southern 500, leading 345 laps and beating Spartanburg, S.C. native, David Pearson; however, on Sunday, Jones only led the final 23 laps en route to earning Petty GMS’s first-ever victory. In a wild chain-of-events in the final 30 laps, race leader, Martin Truex Jr. dropped out of the race due to a mechanical failure, followed by Kyle Busch who soon after also suffered a mechanical failure while leading under caution. Jones then inherited the lead and on the final restart of the night with 20 laps to go, he held his ground and bested defending Cook Out Southern 500 winner, Hamlin to capture his second win in the prestigious event.
“Man, I was focused forward,” said Jones, driver of the No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet. “Honestly that’s the calmest I’ve been in the race car going for a win ever, really. I think back to the last time winning here and I was driving my guts out; my nerves were pounding, my stomach was hurting, and today it was just business as usual. Just feel good about this track and knew Denny (Hamlin) would run me clean. I knew it was going to be tough for him to pass. It was tough to pass all day, and we got a good restart there. But man, so proud of everybody. Just what a dream come true. That’s all you can say.”
Jones may not have been the absolute favorite heading into this year’s Cook Out Southern 500, but this was certainly not a fluke win. In fact, Jones ran up front all race long. He finished out Stage 1 in eighth and Stage 2 in ninth; however, having two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers drop out certainly helped pave the way to victory for Jones.
“Well, we had a lot of good stuff go our way,” Jones said. “We got the lead there with the 18 (Kyle Busch) losing a motor. And man, we’ve got a good shot if we can just get clear. We had a good car, we just weren’t quite with the pace of some of those guys up front. And I knew — we took the lead, I’m like 20 laps, I can just run hard, and those last two I was losing the balance a lot. I had been running really hard, but it was just enough. So just really proud.”
Hamlin who finished second just came up short on his fourth Cook Out Southern 500 victory, but the driver of the No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota had a stellar night. He finished out Stage 1 in second, but then a green flag pit strategy backed him up in the field, and he had to battle back to the front; however, at the end of the night, Hamlin had an opportunity, but he just needed more laps to catch Jones. That being said, Hamlin was the highest finishing Playoff driver of the night.
“Just tried to get the wheels to slide or spin on entry,” Hamlin said. “Tried to do everything I could to get the car to respond with the front, but just a lot tighter than what we had been all day. I think Kyle (Busch) said he had the same thing. Might have just been a track thing, but overall we weren’t great on short run, but obviously we were good on the long run. Just needed that thing to go green.”
Tyler Reddick finished third on Sunday in the Richard Childress No. 8 Lenovo Chevrolet. He has been piecing together really strong finishes lately. He won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road course in July and has since earned a seventh at Watkins Glen International and a runner-up finish at DAYTONA. At Darlington, Reddick ran consistently all night long, and in the final laps, he was up front battling his fellow NASCAR Playoff competitors.
“All-in-all, a good night for our No. 8 Lenovo Chevy,” Reddick said. “A year ago today, and two years ago when we ran this race, we would just fall apart throughout the night. At times, it looked like we were going to do that again. But we recovered, we bounced back. We stuck true to what we knew was our race car. We decided to fight around it with some other ideas and it worked out. Really good start to the playoffs for us.”
Pole-sitter Joey Logano finished fourth, and Christopher Bell rounded out the top-five. Completing the top-10 was Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman.
William Byron won Stage 1, and Busch won Stage 2.
There were 21 lead changes among 11 drivers. Busch led a race high of 155 laps prior to his mechanical failure.
Throughout the 367-lap race, there were also nine cautions for 58 laps. The only multicar accident occurred on Lap 114, when Chase Elliott spun and collected Chase Briscoe in Turn 2.
The NASCAR Cup Series will visit Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 11. Live coverage of the Hollywood Casino 400 will broadcast live on USA and MRN at 3 p.m. ET.
Erik Jones celebrates his second Cook Out Southern 500 victory at Darlington Raceway.
Erik Jones outruns Denny Hamlin to win the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Erik Jones does a burnout in front of a sold out crowd at Darlington Raceway.