It’s been a long-time coming for Erik Jones and Petty GMS Motorsports.
All season, Jones and the No. 43 team have punched above their weight on a consistent basis in the NASCAR Cup Series, finishing the regular-season 16th place in points, but missing out on the Playoffs.
On Sunday, despite not being a member of the 16-driver post-season, Jones finessed his second victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, holding off a fierce challenge from Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick to capture the win.
“Man, I was focused forward,” Jones said in a post-race interview. “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.”
Jones, who had been running inside the top-10 for the majority of the race, got his track position as a result of a couple of lucky breaks, as well as a brilliant pit stop by his Petty GMS Motorsports crew.
The first lucky break, came in the middle of a green-flag pit stop cycle, when the caution came out for Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford Mustang bursting into flames, leaving only eight cars on the lead lap.
Then, through the natural attrition of Darlington, Martin Truex Jr. suffered a power steering failure, which placed the No. 43 FOCUSFactor Chevrolet into third, when the race’s final caution was displayed with 25 laps to go.
Gaining a spot on pit road, due to excellent work by his crew, Jones was then in second when Kyle Busch’s engine exploded from the race lead, handing him the lead and the chance at a victory on a silver platter
Moving into second as a result of a strong stop by his pit crew, Jones was then in prime position to capitalize when Kyle Busch’s engine exploded from the lead, with under 25 laps to go, handing Jones his opportunity on a silver platter.
Over the course of the race’s final 20 laps, Jones and Hamlin yo-yo-ed back and forth with their intervals, with the lead never growing to more than a second, while coming as close as a car length in the final corner.
“Well, we had a lot of good stuff go our way,” Jones continued. “We got the lead there with the 18 losing a motor and man, we’ve got a good shot if we can just get clear, and 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.”
Despite making a final-corner lunge to try and steal the lead from the No. 43, Hamlin would come up just short in second place, while Tyler Reddick finished just under a second behind the leader, in third.
Michael McDowell recorded another impressive finish, coming home in sixth place for Front Row Motorsports, while Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, and Alex Bowman rounded out the top-10.
Kyle Larson (12th), Ryan Blaney (13th), Austin Cindric (16th), Austin Dillon (17th), Daniel Suarez (18th), Ross Chastain (20th), Chase Briscoe (27th), Kyle Busch (30th), Kevin Harvick (33rd), and Chase Elliott (36th) were the drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs that didn’t finish inside the top-10.
The victory by Erik Jones at Darlington on Sunday makes him the 17th winner over the course of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season throughout 27 races – the most winners through 27 races all-time (tied with 1961).
What a freakin' year it has been!
With his win at @TooToughToTame, @Erik_Jones becomes the 17th different driver to win through 27 races in 2022 – the most winners through 27 races all-time (tied with 1961).#NASCAR | #SrigleyStats pic.twitter.com/lKYTSBMYCJ
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) September 5, 2022