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NASCAR playoffs at Darlington: Erik Jones drives the No. 43 to Victory Lane for the first time in eight years & More Latest News Here

On September 4, 1967, Richard Petty won the Southern 500 for the only time in his incomparable stock car racing career. In the 55 years that passed since, wins for Petty’s car number had become harder and harder to come by — until Sunday night, when Petty’s driver brought the No. 43 back where it belongs.

After taking the lead when Kyle Busch blew an engine under caution, Jones outran Denny Hamlin on the final 20 lap run to the checkered flag, holding him off to win the Cook Out Southern 500 for the second time in his career.

Jones’ win is much more than the third of his career and his first in three years — It is the first win for Richard Petty’s No. 43 since 2014, and the 200th win in the history of the car number.

Cook Out Southern 500 unofficial results

  1. #43 – Erik Jones
  2. #11 – Denny Hamlin
  3. #8 – Tyler Reddick
  4. #22 – Joey Logano
  5. #20 – Christopher Bell
  6. #34 – Michael McDowell
  7. #6 – Brad Keselowski
  8. #24 – William Byron
  9. #45 – Bubba Wallace
  10. #48 – Alex Bowman

Jones had been running third with 28 laps to go when the final caution came out for a crash by Cody Ware, setting up a final round of pit stops under caution that saw Jones get out second behind Kyle Busch. Then, under caution, Busch’s engine suddenly went up in smoke — putting Jones in the race lead and giving him an opportunity to end a three-year winless drought that had lasted, coincidentally, since he first won the Southern 500 in 2019, and which had seen him land with Richard Petty’s team after being cast off by Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2020 season.

“Just awesome. Just so proud of these guys at Petty GMS, the FocusFactor crew,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Man, we’ve been so close, here and there all year. I didn’t think today was gonna be the day. It was gonna be a tough one to win, I knew. But no better fitting place, man. I love this track, I love this race, and I’m on that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it on there twice is pretty cool.”

Jones becomes the 17th different driver to win a Cup race this season, setting a modern era record for the most different winners through 27 races. He is also the seventh different driver to ever win in the No. 43 — Besides Richard Petty (192), other drivers Jones now joins include Jim Paschal (2), Bobby Hamilton (2), Lee Petty (1), John Andretti (1), and Aric Almirola (1).

As a non-playoff driver, Jones prevented any of the playoff drivers from earning an automatic berth in the round of 12, outlasting them all in a race that saw many suffer mechanical problems.

Race of attrition

From the time this race began in 1950, the Southern 500 was billed as one of NASCAR’s most brutal tests of man and machine, with Darlington being tough and unforgiving on driver and equipment alike. Sunday night, the Southern 500 lived up to its old reputation, with The Lady in Black rejecting many of the playoff suitors who tried to court her.

Early in the race, Kyle Larson began experiencing electrical issues in his motor, losing four laps that he would eventually make up on his way to a 12th place finish. He was fortunate to do so, because his fellow playoff competitors were not nearly so lucky.

Chase Elliott crashed out on lap 113, suffering terminal damage to his rear control arms in a wreck that also collected Chase Briscoe. Ross Chastain made his way up to third, but his chances of winning came to a grinding halt when something went awry with the drive pins in his left rear suspension.

Kevin Harvick had a frightening exit from the race, when his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford went up in flames after his right front rocker panel ignited. Harvick — who made strong comments earlier in the week about how he felt NASCAR was not acting adequately on safety concerns with the Next Gen car’s construction — made even stronger comments about the quality of Next Gen car parts after climbing out of his machine as it was consumed by fire.

“I’m sure it’s just the crappy parts on the racecar, like we’ve seen so many times. We haven’t fixed anything,” Harvick told NBC Sports, sharing that the flames had begun to come through his car’s dash. “… What a disaster, man. No reason. We didn’t touch the wall, didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car and can’t finish the race, during the playoffs, because of crappy-ass parts.”

Martin Truex Jr. looked to have the race in control and headed towards his first win of the season when he suddenly lost power steering, and then saw his engine go with it. That left the race in Kyle Busch’s hands until his motor suddenly and inexplicably expired while riding around under caution.

“Just had a great car and don’t come out with anything to show for it. That’s what I really, really hate about it,” Busch told NBC Sports. “… I don’t know. The sun will come up tomorrow.”

Playoff picture

With Chase Elliott crashing out and finishing last, Joey Logano has now taken a six point lead over William Byron in the round of 16 standings. Elliott has fallen back to ninth (-24), but he was able to stay 14 points above the cutoff line thanks to an abundance of playoff points he had earned by winning the regular season championship.

Daniel Suarez, who finished 18th after an up-and-down day, currently holds the final transfer spot to make the round of 12. The four drivers below the cutoff line after the first playoff race are are Austin Cindric (-2), Austin Dillon (-4), Chase Briscoe (-10), and Kevin Harvick (-13).

Race results rundown

  • Given that they’re two of the most iconic numbers in NASCAR history, Jones’ win following Austin Dillon’s win at Daytona last weekend marks the first time that Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 and Richard Petty’s No. 43 have won in consecutive weeks since 1999. John Andretti scored a dramatic win at Martinsville in the Petty No. 43, and the next week saw Dale Earnhardt take the No. 3 to victory in the DieHard 500 at Talladega.
  • With a seventh-place finish, Brad Keselowski tied his season-best result while also taking his fourth top 10 of the season. That now gives Keselowski more than double the top 10s he had in his statistical-worst season back in 2010 — another indicator that the glass is half-full for Keselowski.
  • The Southern 500 marked William Byron’s strongest run in months, as he led twice for a total of 50 laps before finishing eighth, his first top 10 since Sonoma in June. It was the fourth-most laps Byron has led in a race all season, though it pales in comparison to his totals from Atlanta (111), Richmond (122), and Martinsville (212).
  • Cole Custer continues to look as if he’s been able to turn a corner. Custer ran well all night and finished a respectable 14th, marking his third-straight finish of 16th or better after what had been another disappointing year for the former Cup Rookie of the Year
  • Ty Gibbs took the No. 23 for 23XI Racing to a 15th-place finish, marking his third top 15 in now seven races as the substitute driver for Kurt Busch. Gibbs’ finish meant that both 23XI cars finished in the top 15 after their number swap to give the No. 45 — driven to a ninth-place finish by Bubba Wallace — the best chance possible at an owner’s championship
  • Corey LaJoie enjoyed another strong Southern 500 run, staying out under a caution to take the lead and hanging tough in the top 10 after running with the leaders throughout the night. Unfortunately, LaJoie would later report fuel pump problems and fade to 24th.

Next race

The NASCAR playoffs round of 16 continues in the heartland next week, as the Cup Series returns to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 next Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network and streaming on fuboTV (try for free).

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