In a wild war of attrition that went to two overtimes, Erik Jones out played Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway to seize the first victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
In a Coke Zero Sugar 400 that went eight laps beyond its scheduled 160, Jones passed the reigning series champion on the backstretch of the final lap and held on to win by .125 seconds. Jones battled back from damage sustained in a multicar wreck on Lap 65, an accident that cost him a lap. The final circuit was the only one Jones led.
AJ Allmendinger ran third after a nine-car wreck ended the first overtime attempt with Truex approaching the finish line just short of the end of the white-flag lap. That wreck provided the coup de grace for Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Trevor Bayne.
Only 20 of the 40 cars that started the race were running at the finish, and only 13 finished on the lead lap. Kasey Kahne came home fourth after leading 17 laps, and Chris Buescher ran fifth, matching his finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.
With a push from Kahne, Truex got the lead after the final restart on Lap 167 but couldn’t hold it. The outside lane was more organized as the final lap unfolded, and Jones got a strong run through Turns 1 and 2.
Truex had posted only one other top-five finish — a second in the 2016 Daytona 500 — in 26 previous starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Two massive wrecks in Stage 2, both involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr., eliminated the majority of the contending cars and opened the door for a new winner.
On Lap 54, Brad Keselowski was running behind leader William Byron when his No. 2 Ford turned off the front bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Fusion, slammed into the No. 41 of Kurt Busch and ignited a Turn 3 wreck that involved 24 cars and wiped out all three Team Penske entries, along with Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and pole winner Chase Elliott.
But Keselowski didn’t blame Stenhouse. He pointed the finger at Byron, who moved down the track to put a late block on the No. 2 and forced Keselowski to check up.