DARLINGTON, S.C. — Erik Jones gave the No. 43 car a landmark 200th victory — along with maybe a few regrets to his old employers at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jones moved in front when JGR star Kyle Busch blew an engine, then outraced another former Gibbs colleague in Denny Hamlin over the final 31 laps to win the Southern 500 on Sunday night. It’s the first time a non-playoff driver won the opener of the 10-race postseason.
Jones won this event in 2019 for the Gibbs organization, where he raced Cup cars from 2017 to 2020. He came out on top once more, this time for Petty GMS Motorsports owned in part by Richard Petty.
“I never lost any belief in myself through any of it,” Jones said. “I knew I could still do it and I knew we needed to grow the program to do it. And we have.”
The celebration continued for the Petty organization, which had not won since Aric Almirola‘s Daytona 500 victory in 2014.
“I know my dad,” Kyle Petty said. “What time is it, 11 [p.m.]? He just opened a bottle of red wine.”
The King went to Twitter shortly after Jones took the checkered flag to congratulate Erik Jones and his team.
Jones just wanted the Hall of Famer to keep his promise.
“He said I’d get a hat if I win,” Jones said, laughing.
Hamlin, seeded sixth in the playoffs, closed in on Jones’ back bumper on the final lap, but couldn’t make the winning pass.
“Erik just did a really great job,” Hamlin said. “Great day for Erik, a great day for our team.”
The third of Jones’ old JGR teammates, Martin Truex Jr. held a substantial lead over Busch when his No. 19 had power steering problems and went off to the garage.
Jones remained in control and in one piece while many of the favored playoff participants couldn’t do the same.
Along with the blow up of Busch, the 11th playoff seed, No. 9 seed Kevin Harvick saw his car catch fire in a scary scene. Harvick scrambled away from his stopped car to safety.
Top-seeded Chase Elliott was gone during the first stage, sliding into the wall, hitting Chase Briscoe as he tore up his suspension and was out of the race. Kyle Larson, the defending series champion seeded fourth, was three laps down in the opening stage after engine problems. Larson finished 12th.
Hamlin was second followed by three more playoff chasers in Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano and Christopher Bell. Michael McDowell was sixth, then Brad Keselowski, William Byron and Bubba Wallace Busch led 155 of 367 laps, the most of anyone. He ended in 30th.
“t’s unfortunate circumstances,” Busch said. “We just had a great car and didn’t come out with anything to show for it. That’s what I hate about it.”
Logano moved into the points lead with Byron second, Hamlin third and Christopher Bell, Jones’ replacement at JGR, in fourth. The four drivers below the 12-team cutoff line for the second round were Austin Cindric in 13th, followed by Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe and Harvick in 16h.
Chase Elliott was out of the Southern 500 before it got to halfway. Elliott slid in turn one, then collected playoff participant Chase Briscoe. Elliott’s suspension was damaged. His crew could not fix it in the pits and took it to the garage. Elliott finished 36th, last in the field.
His plans going forward: “Run better than we did today.”
The scariest incident came in the final stage when Harvick caught fire on lap 276 as he came down the front stretch. Harvick quickly pulled the car on the grass and jumped out of the car, running to safety.
Moments later during the caution brought out by Harvick, J.J. Yeley’s car headed into the pits on fire. That blaze, too, was extinguished.
Harvick said it’s another safety problem with the Next Gen car NASCAR must fix.
“What a disaster, man,” Harvick said. “No reason … here we are in the pits with a burned up car and we can’t finish the race during the playoff because of unreliable parts.”
Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall was also at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” as NASCAR’s first college athlete to receive a name, image and likeness deal with Darlington Raceway. McCall did some promotional work for the track and even had his face on the side of Ryan Vargas’ No. 6 car in the Xfinity Series race here.
McCall was the NCAA record-setter in passing efficiency at 207.6 last season. He threw three TD passes and ran for a fourth as the Chants opened the season with a 38-28 victory over Army on Saturday night.
Round one of the playoffs continues at Kansas next Sunday. Kurt Busch, currently recovering from a concussion in a crash at Pocono, won the race there in May. He gave up his playoff spot because he has not been medically cleared to return to the track.
Sources: Ex-Buffs QB Shrout picks Arkansas St.
Shrout visited Arkansas State over the weekend and his commitment looms as a significant win for Butch Jones, who is entering his third season as Arkansas State’s head coach.
Shrout will graduate from Colorado this spring and plans to enroll at Arkansas State in May, according to sources. He has one year of eligibility remaining and potentially a second if he gets a medical redshirt after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.
Shrout most recently played at Colorado in 2022, where he threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions and delivered the game-winning touchdown pass against Cal in overtime in Colorado’s lone victory of the season. He started seven games at Colorado and had one start during his three seasons at Tennessee (2018-2020).
Shrout is one of three Buffaloes quarterbacks who have entered the NCAA transfer portal since the school hired Deion Sanders as head coach. Sanders has made it clear that his son, Shedeur, will be the starter next season. He introduced him at his opening news conference by saying, “This is your quarterback.”
According to sources, Shrout was attracted to the potential opportunity at Arkansas State, including playing in offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf’s West Coast-style offense. Shrout also had some teammates at Tennessee who played for Jones, and sources said the former teammates endorsed Jones both as a person and a coach.
Arkansas State (3-9) ranked No. 118 in total offense last season and No. 85 in scoring offense. The Red Wolves open the 2023 season at Oklahoma on Sept. 2.
Georgia’s Bennett arrested for public intoxication
Former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their second straight CFP National Championship earlier this month, was arrested on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge in Dallas on Sunday morning.
In a statement to ESPN, a Dallas Police Department spokesperson said officers responded to a report of a man banging on doors in the 1600 block of Tribeca Way at 7:10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
“The preliminary investigation found when officers arrived, they located the man, Stetson Bennett, 25, and determined he was intoxicated,” the police statement read. “Bennett was taken into custody, transported to the City Detention Center and charged with public intoxication.”
Bennett left the detention center Sunday morning, but he could not be reached for comment.
Bennett, who started his college career as a walk-on, was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season, after leading the Bulldogs to a 15-0 record and SEC championship. He passed for 4,127 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for another 10 scores.
Bennett was named the offensive MVP in both of Georgia’s victories in the CFP, a 42-41 comeback win against Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a 65-7 rout of TCU in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T.
Bennett, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is considered a potential selection in April’s NFL draft. He recently won the Manning Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the FBS by the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Sources: Harbaugh, Broncos meet but no deal
Broncos owner Greg Penner and University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh met last week in Ann Arbor to discuss Denver’s head-coaching position without any deal materializing, league sources told ESPN.
Although Harbaugh two weeks ago announced he was staying at Michigan, Penner did his due diligence and still traveled to Ann Arbor to meet with the coach in person, like he’s done with seven other candidates during the Broncos’ head-coaching search.
The follow-up conversations were part of the process for both Denver — led by Penner with general manager George Paton — and Harbaugh. The face-to-face meeting came after Harbaugh’s initial video interview with Denver, after which he pulled his name out of contention and reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan.
“I love the relationships that I have at Michigan — coaches, staff, families, administration, president Santa Ono and especially the players and their families,” Harbaugh said in his statement Jan. 16. “My heart is at the University of Michigan. I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to out-happy, happy.’ Go Blue!”
The Broncos moved on as well, continuing their discussions with several other candidates. Denver has interviewed former Saints coach Sean Payton, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Stanford coach David Shaw, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and their own defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero.
Harbaugh now has met with the Vikings and Broncos in back-to-back years. While one source wondered how many more chances Harbaugh would get, another league source said “The league is likely to be interested in Jim as long as he is successfully coaching. He’s proven at every level including the NFL. That’s a hard resume to match.”
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