DARLINGTON, S.C. — Erik Jones held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to win the rain-delayed Southern 500 that ended early Monday morning.
Jones took the lead from Kyle Larson 85 laps from the end and stayed in front of Busch the rest of the way to add a win at iconic Darlington Raceway with his first NASCAR Cup Series victory at Daytona in July 2018.
Some had wondered if the 23-year-old Jones was the weak link in the JGR powerhouse as Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. had all won four times apiece this season while Jones’ No. 20 was winless.
“Is there anything more to say?” Jones said with a smile.
Not anymore. Jones’ victory means all four of Joe Gibbs’ drivers has taken the checkered flag and are locked into the NASCAR playoffs that start in two weeks.
Larson was second, his third top three finish at Darlington in the past four years. He led 497 laps during that stretch, including 44 in this one.
Busch, who started in the back after swapping out an engine after qualifying, got up to Jones’ bumper near the end. But he brushed the wall on the next-to-last lap and ended third.
Kevin Harvick was fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth.
Erik Jones celebrates his win in the Southern 500. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk, Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer was sixth followed by the winner of the opening stage, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon.
RAIN DELAY: Heavy storms Sunday delayed the start by more than four hours. Drivers were going through introductions shortly before the scheduled 6 p.m. start when skies got dark and heavy rain began. Crews covered up cars and racers grabbed umbrellas as they headed back through the garage areas to wait out the storm. Darlington earlier announced it had sold out its reserved seating. Most fans also sought shelter, although some stayed out. One was interviewed on the NBC Sports broadcast by NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer.
“You have to explain yourself son,” Bowyer asked, wanting to know why he was out there in the rain.
When fan told him he came to see a race and didn’t care about the wet weather, Bowyer shouted, “That, ladies and gentleman, is a race fan.”
At one point, drivers Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie came out on the wet track to throw a football with fans in the stands.
REASON TO RACE: NASCAR spokesman Matt Humphrey said officials took many factors into consideration in starting the race after 10 p.m., including the sell out at Darlington and the approach of Hurricane Dorian toward South Carolina’s coast. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered evacuations of coastal counties for Monday that included lane reversals on roadways in the area.
Humphrey said the storm’s approach was a factor for leaders deciding whether to race or postpone. He said the biggest reason was that NASCAR runs races on the day that it’s scheduled if at all possible.