DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Highlights of Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway as the series reaches its halfway point:
WINNER: At the end of a week in which talk of younger drivers needing to show force in NASCAR racing edged into the conversation, one did. Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones drove through one of the most wreck-filled NASCAR races in recent years Saturday night and led only the final lap in winning at the series most famous track. "How about that race boys and girls!" Jones shouted to the crowd when he climbed out of his car.
The victory was the first Cup win for the 22-year-old Jones, a driver nurtured by Toyota’s motorsports program and one of the leading representatives of the young group of drivers expected to gain traction over the next few years. “What a day,” Jones said. “I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention, and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the buyatoyota.com into victory lane.
“I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much has felt better than this one.” Jones and other drivers in the under-30 group were expected to make noise this season with the departure of several leading drivers, but the younger drivers have been slow to produce.
That ended in a flash as Jones wrote a fairy tale finish to a crash-filled night by zipping past reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., his former teammate at Furniture Row Racing, for the lead on the last lap of the second overtime.
Because the race featured so many wrecks, only 13 cars finished on the lead lap, and may drivers recorded their best finish of the season. AJ Allmendinger finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Chris Buescher. Rounding out the top 10 were Ty Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman. Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brendan Gaughan and D.J. Kennington were the final cars on the lead lap.
FIRST OVERTIME: Just before the leaders took the white flag, a multicar collision took out another set of contenders and brought out the red flag. Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. made contact with Clint Bowyer, who spun and collected Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne and Ross Chastain.
STENHOUSE, AGAIN: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the focus of much of the evening’s caution activity, caused the eighth caution with 11 laps to go when damage on his car caused a tire rub and eventually a tire failure. He spun onto the frontstretch grass. The caution enabled Jimmie Johnson to return to the lead lap.
KENNINGTON SPINS: D.J. Kennington, who ran as high as second after much of the field was pounded in accidents, caused the night’s seventh caution with a spin with 27 laps to go.
STENHOUSE, LARSON CRASH : Kyle Larson lost control of his car with 37 laps to go, apparently because of a tire issue, and his spin collected Stenhouse putting the field under caution for the sixth time.
JOHNSON PENALIZED: Jimmie Johnson, seeking to end a 40-race winless streak, was running up front with 40 laps to go when his crew serviced the car outside its pit box. He was penalized a lap, drawing a complaint from crew chief Chad Knaus.
STAGE TWO: Stenhouse won the second stage over Michael McDowell as the field, decimated by two big wrecks, finished lap 80.
THE SECOND BIG ONE: The night’s second major crash occurred on lap 65. Stenhouse bumped Kyle Busch and sent the No. 18 Toyota into the wall. William Byron, also racing near the front, was involved along with several other drivers.
THE BIG ONE: More than half of the 40-car field was involved in the first big crash of the night. The wreck occurred on lap 54 after contact between Brad Keselowski and Stenhouse near the front of the pack. Cars in the following group were swept into the accident.
Keselowski blamed leader William Byron for the crash, pointing out that a Byron blocking move forced the issue. “Ricky (Stenhouse) was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead, and the car in front of me just threw a late, bad block, Keselowski said. “I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him, and that’s my fault. I know better than that.
“I’ve got to wreck more people, and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. That’s my fault. I’ll take the credit for my team, and we’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”
MENARD GETS SOME AIR: Contact from Johnson in a pack of cars sent Paul Menard sliding off the backstretch and into the air on lap 49. As the car slid across the apron and adjacent grassy areas, its left front was damaged, and its hood almost broke loose from the car. The incident caused the second caution.
STAGE ONE: Stenhouse dominated the race’s first stage and edged Kyle Busch for the stage win. Following in the top 10 were Kyle Larson, Byron, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman.