Saturday’s roundup: Jones rallies on late restart
Bristol, Tenn. — Facing little time and room to make his final move, Erik Jones just decided to let it fly.
Jones, of Swartz Creek, Michigan, blew past Kyle Larson soon after the final restart and held off Kyle Busch in the final laps to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Larson led a race-high 94 of 200 laps thanks to a series of daring moves between cars on the tight half-mile track that kept Busch at bay during the final third. Then came the final caution that left a three-lap sprint on the restart, when Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry got past Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on the outside before he eventually cleared Larson, whose No. 42 Chevy finished third.
“We got a really good restart and we were right with the 42 (Larson),” Jones said. “The 42 just really left the top open where I’d been running before the yellow came out. I figured that was our only chance, we could go up there and see if it holds, and I went up there and it stuck.”
Jones then withstood a last charge from Busch to win the race after starting on the pole. He led three times for 62 laps and collected a $100,000 bonus with a third career series victory that also denied Busch’s bid for a third consecutive weekend sweep of NASCAR events.
Busch, the Sprint Cup Series champion, led 43 laps after starting fifth.
Austin Dillon was fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth in Chevys.
Jones jumped three spots to second in the standings and trails Daniel Suarez (sixth) by six points.
Before the final caution the race was shaping up as a thrilling two-car duel between Larson’s No. 42 Chevy and Busch’s No. 18 Toyota.
While Busch stuck mostly with the low line, Larson thrived with a high-line strategy that got him through a number of tight spaces. At least twice down the stretch Larson navigated through a small gap while racing three-wide and had just enough to seal off the inside track from Busch in the corners.
Larson just didn’t have enough on the final short run. Jones on the other hand was better than him and Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
“Both restarts I had today were absolutely horrendous,” Busch said. “We’d go to the throttle and the thing would shut off, and those guys were gone by then.”
Said Larson, “I didn’t want to see that caution because we were tight on the short runs. I knew I gave that one away.”
Preceding the main race were two 50-lap heats that set the starting order. It was NASCAR’s debut of the format that will also be used at Richmond, Dover and Indianapolis as part of a Dash-4-Cash promotion.
Jones earned the pole during qualifying and led every lap in the first heat — ironically with Larson and Busch finishing 2-3 behind him — before setting the early pace in the main event.
Busch took the lead on Lap 63 before Larson took control in the race’s second half with effective long runs and risk-taking. Jones ultimately took a final risk that paid off handsomely with the trophy and cash.
Helio Castroneves continued the Team Penske domination in qualifying Saturday by winning the pole for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Castroneves turned a lap at 1 minute, 07.1246 seconds to earn the top starting spot for the race Sunday on the temporary street course. It’s the second consecutive year Castroneves will start from the pole at Long Beach, and second consecutive race. He also won the pole two weeks ago at Phoenix, and Penske teammate Will Power won the pole for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg.
Scott Dixon, the winner at Phoenix, qualified second and was followed by Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Power.
The fast six was comprised of only Chevrolet drivers as Honda failed to advance a driver into the final round.