Joliet, Ill. — Erik Jones won the Truck Series title last year and is headed to Sprint Cup next year.
He put himself in position Saturday to also capture the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship and solidify his status as a rising star.
Jones passed Elliott Sadler with nine laps to go and held off Kyle Larson to win the NASCAR Xfinity race at Chicagoland Speedway, allowing Ryan Sieg and Blake Koch to claim the final two spots in the Chase for the championship.
“I just had to go chase Elliott down. It was just a matter of time before we got around him,” Jones said. “What an awesome day.”
The 20-year-old Jones’ series-high fourth win of the season and his second straight at Chicagoland left him as the top seed for the seven-race Chase.
“This is great momentum for us,” Jones said. “I’m just really excited.”
Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch dominated most of the race on the 1.5-mile oval, leading 154 of the first 181 laps until he cut a tire and spun out. Clint Bowyer had the lead on the re-start with 14 laps left before Sadler passed him.
But a charging Jones surged by Sadler and withstood a late challenge before Larson scraped the wall on the 200th and final lap.
“On the last lap I tried to get to the throttle early and try to get a run on him on exit,” Larson said. “I knew I would be flirting with the edge there, and I just got over it and got into the wall and ended our shot.”
Sadler was third, followed by Daniel Suarez and Illinois native Justin Allgaier. Busch finished 13th.
Jones, No. 2 seed Sadler and third-seed Suarez are the only full-time drivers to win an Xfinity race this season. Sadler had a substantial points lead that’s wiped out under the new Chase format.
Sieg finished 12th and Koch 15th to earn the final spots in the 12-driver Chase. Seven other drivers in contention were eliminated.
The rest of the Chase field includes Allgaier, Ty Dillon, Brennan Poole, Brandan Gaughn, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Darrell Wallace Jr.
The Chase begins next week at Kentucky and will have two elimination rounds before a champion is determined Nov. 19 at Homestead.
Busch, the top-seed in the Sprint Cup Chase this year, won the Truck Series race Friday night before failing a post-race inspection. He beat Jones off pit road during a green-flag stop with just over 40 laps remaining and seemed poised for his ninth series win and maintaining the lead after another restart.
Bowyer, a former series champion, finished sixth in his first Xfinity race since 2012.
Jones, who will drive for Furniture Row Racing in the Sprint Cup next season, enters the Xfinity Chase with 28 bonus points. That’s double Sadler’s total.
“It was only three years ago I made my first NASCAR start in a truck at Martinsville and got our first win that year,” Jones said. “It’s just been a rapid rise.”
At Sonoma, California, Simon Pagenaud moved one step closer to his first IndyCar championship with a pole-winning run for Sunday’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Pagenaud led a Team Penske sweep with a flying final qualifying lap Saturday of 1 minute, 16.257 seconds. The Frenchman holds a 44-point lead in the standings over Penske teammate Will Power and will win the title with a finish of sixth or better.
Pagenaud topped the speed chart in all three of his qualifying sessions, but needed the flier on his last attempt to bump Helio Castroneves from the pole.
Castroneves qualified second and was followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Power as the Chevrolet’s from Penske took the top four positions.
Graham Rahal qualified fifth and Ryan Hunter-Reay was sixth.
Pagenaud earned one point for the pole.