Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway was a race of survival. Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Erik Jones, handled the calamity through the 400 miles, plus overtime, to claim victory. Jones earned his first win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, passing runner-up Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap to accomplish the feat.
A first win at the hollowed ground of Daytona is significant. However, for Jones, his accomplishment was even more-so because of the chaos he avoided. 40 cars started the race Saturday evening. Only 20 finished, while just 13 ended the night on the same lap as Jones. The MENCS sophomore clawed his way to victory after sustaining damage in just one of the “Big Ones” of the night, which occurred on Lap 65. Repairs cost the Byron, MI driver a lap.
After overcoming the challenging beginning, Jones was elated after the race, celebrating in the tri-oval as fans cheered.
“How about that race, boys and girls?” Jones shouted to the fans in the grandstands. “My first Cup win, my first win at Daytona, my first superspeedway win — what an awesome day, man!
Both incidents, which garnered “Big One” status, occurred in Stage 2. The first on lap 54 when Brad Keselowski, who was tailing William Byron as the Hendrick Motorsports rookie lead the pack into Turn 3, got turned off the front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford Fusion, which ignited a 24 car wreck. That mess of sheet metal ended the night for all three Team Penske cars, JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez. Chase Elliott, who earned Saturday’s pole position, also saw his night end early from the wreck.
William Byron, who escaped the Lap 54 chaos, wasn’t as lucky on Lap 65. Byron was leading when Stenhouse made contact with Kyle Bush in the left rear, sending the series leader spinning into Byron’s Liberty University Camaro. Following the crash, both were finished for the night.
Stenhouse, who won Stage 1 and 2, would finish a lap down, in 17th, after spinning on Lap 124 from a blown tire, caused by previous crash damage cutting the rubber.
Kevin Harvick rebounded from damage in the Lap 54 accident to be leading on the first overtime restart on Lap 162, but he was caught up in a wreck on that lap before the leaders could commence, what would have been, the final lap.
AJ Allmendinger left Daytona in third, Kasey Kahne, fourth, with Chris Buescher finishing fifth.
Next up for the MENCS, the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Episode 18 of the Track Talk podcast, recapping Daytona and previewing Kentucky, is below.