In his fifty-seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Erik Jones broke through for his first career victory in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion watched on as multiple wrecks claimed many drivers, with Jones escaping a crash of his own to record his first win.
Chase Elliott scored his fourth career Cup pole and third at Daytona (the first two coming in the 2016 and 2017 Daytona 500s). Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson started second and fourth, respectively, while the fourth HMS driver William Byron started further back in eighteenth. David Ragan (qualified twenty-first), Kasey Kahne (twenty-eighth), Daniel Suárez (thirty-second), and Landon Cassill (thirty-seventh) were ordered to the rear due to unapproved adjustments. Timothy Peters, attempting his second career Cup race, failed to qualify; he is the first driver to DNQ for a Cup race in 2018.
Before the race, Cassill’s #99 failed to get started, forcing him to the garage for a battery change before he could return to the race. Elliott, pushed by Brad Keselowski on the inside line, quickly pulled ahead of Bowman/Johnson’s outside until Elliott pulled up in front of Bowman. The outside groove proved to be the superior line for the stage as HMS cars ran 1–2–3. On lap twelve, defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead as Elliott committed to the inside. Michael McDowell joined Stenhouse in drafting as Elliott began falling.
By lap 21, Keselowski had dropped to twenty-first. As the stage progressed, the inside groove began gaining momentum as Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney caught the leaders; McDowell attempted to block, causing him to lose progress. On the final lap of the stage, Kyle Busch charged to the front, but could not catch Stenhouse as he earned his first playoff point of the year. Behind the two were Byron, Elliott, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Keselowski, Austin Dillon, and Bowman.
Stage #2 began on lap 46 as Keselowski led, while Ty Dillon lost fuel pressure and fell off the pace. Two laps later, Paul Menard was clipped by Johnson, causing him to go airborne as his hood flew off; the #21 slid into the backstretch grass, where it caught more air before landing. It would not be the only wreck during the stage.
The restart took place on lap 53 with Keselowski ahead of Byron. Once again, after just two laps, more crashing occurred, this time on a larger scale as the infamous Big One struck: while battling Byron for the lead, Keselowski received a push from Stenhouse that proved to be too strong, causing the #2 to spin on the backstretch. Keselowski clipped Busch before colliding with Elliott. By the end of the carnage, twenty-five drivers were involved, including Logano, Suárez, Johnson Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin.
“I need to wreck more people so they stop throwing bad blocks and that is what’s happening to me on the plate tracks,” Keselowski stated in an NBC interview. “Everyone out there watching drivers throw another bad block, I’m just gonna drive through you and wreck ya. So look out at Talladega.”
Another green flag waved on lap 65 with Byron ahead, but the cycle of chaos continued after yet another two more laps. As they exited turn four, Stenhouse clipped Kyle Busch, who hit Byron. Busch was then hit by Trevor Bayne, while Byron hit Erik Jones. Newman escaped the wreck to join Stenhouse on the front row for the lap 71 restart. Stenhouse pulled away to win his second stage of the night, ahead of McDowell, Bowman, Kahne, Ty Dillon, Johnson, Larson, Austin Dillon, Bayne, and Newman.
Ty Dillon and Clint Bowyer took two tires to become the new leaders for the start of Stage #3 on lap 86. Bowyer briefly led until McDowell overtook him for first. Johnson claimed the lead on lap 109, though McDowell began dueling with him for the position.
Green flag stops began on lap 121, with McDowell and the Fords pitting on the second wave two laps later. Johnson was penalized for pitting outside of his box, while the caution came out shortly after when Stenhouse and Larson tangled. Truex eventually inherited the lead for the lap 127 restart, leading Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, Wallace, and Buescher; besides Truex and Kahne’s 18 wins apiece, the other three have a combined two career Cup wins.
D.J. Kennington, who ran as high as third and was in the top ten for much of the green flag, spun on the backstretch on lap 133. The race stayed green until the #96 came to a stop, bringing out the yellow. The restart took place with 23 to go as Truex led Kahne and Wallace. Kahne, on the outside line and pushed by Newman, pulled ahead of Truex as Harvick followed to take third. Bowman eventually moved up to second on the inside as Kahne blocked him and Harvick on the outside. The top nine, consisting of Kahne, Harvick, Truex, Bowman, Bowyer, Newman, Jones, and Buescher, eventually created a considerable margin over the rest of the pack.
With twelve laps remaining, Stenhouse cut his left-rear tire and spun through the tri-oval and into the grass. Another restart occurred with six to go as Kahne and Harvick, respectively pushed by Bowman and Truex, led. After a lap, Joey Gase got loose and went down onto the apron; when he came up the track, he collided with McDowell and collected Almirola. Johnson attempted to dodge and slid down the track, spinning into the grass and hitting McDowell as the #34 rolled down the banking.
The wreck resulted in an overtime situation as Harvick and Truex occupied the front row. Truex, pushed by Toyota ally Jones on the outside, jumped ahead of Harvick as Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Bowyer was too far back to help him. As they came to take the white flag, yet another crash unfolded when Wallace clipped Bowyer, turning him into the wall. Wallace spun up and into Harvick after being hit by Matt DiBenedetto, while Bayne and Ross Chastain wrecked together. Johnson slammed into Chastain before his car aimlessly drove into the tire barrier. Stenhouse took hits but continued. The red flag came out as a result to clean up the track.
A second overtime attempt took place shortly after with Truex and Jones leading. Jones, receiving little help from Kahne, could not keep up with Truex as the reigning champion took the lead. Kahne caught up to Truex and tried to pull ahead on the outside before settling on the inside, prompting Jones to try a move of his own on the outside. Truex and Jones fought through the white flag before Jones cleared the #78, defending his spot to score the victory.
Truex had to settle for second, ahead of Allmendinger, Kahne, Buescher, Ty Dillon, DiBenedetto, Newman, Austin Dillon, and Bowman.
“I’m proud of you @erik_jones,” Jones’ Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch tweeted. “I knew the day I met you and then when you beat me at the snowball derby that you had so much talent. You’ve had to overcome a lot these past few years but you are a fighter. I’m proud of you and know your Dad is up there celebrating!”
Next week, the Cup Series travels to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Truex is the defending winner.
2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400 results
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