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.
Bautista (AL), Williams (NL) named top relievers
NEW YORK — Baltimore‘s Félix Bautista was a unanimous winner of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and Milwaukee‘s Devin Williams won the Trevor Hoffman National League honor on Wednesday.
Bautista, a 28-year-old right-hander, was 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA and 33 saves in 39 chances for the AL East champion Orioles. He made his final appearance on Aug. 25 and had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 9, which likely will cause him to miss the 2024 season.
Williams, a 29-year-old right-hander, was 8-3 with a 1.53 ERA and 36 saves in 40 opportunities for the NL Central champion Brewers. Williams also won the award in 2020 and joined former teammate Josh Hader, Edwin Díaz, Liam Hendriks, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel as the only multiple winners of the honor, known as the Delivery Man of the Year Award from 2005-13.
Rivera and Hoffman were among the six voters, joined by fellow Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers along with John Franco and Billy Wagner. Balloting was based on the regular season and used a system in which the first choice got five points, the second three and the third one.
Sources: Severino to crosstown Mets for $13M
Severino, 29, will join the Mets and a rotation in significant need of help after spending his eight-year career with the New York Yankees.
He struggled this season with a 6.65 ERA, but posted a 3.39 ERA in 638 innings over his previous seven seasons. If Severino thrives, he’ll hit free agency again next year, and he can earn up to $2 million in performance bonuses from the Mets.
Utah St. QB to skip final season for SEAL training
Williams revealed in a radio interview with a Salt Lake City radio station on Monday he intends to skip his final year of collegiate eligibility with the goal of becoming a SEAL officer in 2025.
“I just want to be in a spot where I can protect this great country where we get to play football with the freedom to do that,” Williams told KSL 97.5 FM. “I think this is the best country in the world, so I’d like to keep it that way and protect it as long as I can.”
The junior quarterback plans to take a SEAL qualifying fitness test after the season. It is a rigorous test that features a 500-yard swim, maximum push-ups, pull-ups, and curl-ups done in separate two-minute intervals, and a 1.5-mile run. The individual time for either the swim or the run cannot exceed 12 ½ minutes.
Williams said he embraces the challenge and is eager to follow in the footsteps of parents and grandparents who served in the military before him. Being a SEAL specifically appeals to him because of the chance to be in a team-oriented environment.
“What I love about their ethos and their motto is that no one guy is better than the other,” Williams said. “It takes all of them to complete a mission.”
Williams spent three seasons with Wyoming before entering the transfer portal following the 2021 season. He joined Utah State and has appeared in 16 games for the Aggies over two seasons.
The seldom-used Williams began the season as Utah State’s third-string quarterback but made his first start since 2021 in the Aggies’ regular season finale against New Mexico. He played mostly on special teams during the season, but injuries to Cooper Legas and McCae Hillstead forced Aggies coach Blake Anderson to turn to the former Wyoming transfer to run the offense.
Williams tallied 351 all-purpose yards to help Utah State edge the Lobos 44-41 in double overtime. He accounted for five touchdowns — culminating in a game-winning 13-yard run after retrieving a snap that went behind him — to help the Aggies become bowl eligible for a third consecutive season.
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