Eric Jones took the lead when Kyle Busch’s engine exploded at the Cookout Southern 500 on Sunday night, pulling away from Denny Hamlin to win at Darlington after a final restart after 20 laps. They advanced to the first playoffs of the NASCAR Cup Series.
Hamlin, his No. 6 in the playoffs, came close to Jones’ rebounding his bar in the final round, but was unable to make his winning pass. Jones took his second career victory at Darlington and his third at NASCAR.
It was also his 200th win for the legendary No. 43 car, most of which is associated with Hall of Famer Richard Petty. “He said if I won, I would get a (cowboy) hat,” Jones laughed.
Jones became NASCAR’s first non-playoff driver to win the title in 10 races. And he did it because many of the top seeds had glitches and wrecks.
Along with Bush’s explosion, number 9 Kevin Harvick saw his car catch fire in a spooky scene. Harvick got out of the stopped car safely. Top seed Chase Elliott went missing in the first stage, slid into the wall and hit Chase Briscoe as he tore his suspension and took him out of the race.
Defending his series champion Kyle his Larson was three laps behind him early on due to engine trouble. Larson finished 12th. Hamlin finished second, followed by three playoff chasers: Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano and Christopher Bell.
Michael McDowell finished his sixth, followed by Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman rounding out the top ten.
Busch led 155 of his 367 laps. He finished 30th.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Bush said. “We just had a great car but couldn’t show anything about it. I hate that about it.
Tracking Issues Chase Elliott dropped out before coming off the Southern 500. Elliott slid in Turn 1 to score playoff contender Chase Briscoe. Elliot’s suspension is damaged. He couldn’t fix it in the pit, so his crew took it to the garage.
The most horrific incident occurred on the final stage when Harvick caught fire while coming off the front track on lap 276. Harvick hurriedly pulled the car onto the lawn and jumped out of it to safety.
Some time later, during Harvick’s warning, J.J. Yeley’s car burst into flames and pitted. This fire was extinguished. Harvick said NASCAr needs to fix another safety issue in next-generation vehicles.
“What a disaster, man,” said Harvick. “There’s no reason… here we’re pitting in a burning car because of unreliable parts and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs. “The first round of the playoffs is next Sunday in Kansas. will resume.
Kurt Busch, now recovering from a concussion from a crash in Pocono, won the race there in May. He gave up a playoff spot because he was not medically cleared to return to the track.