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, of Byron, Mich., 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 (Rochester Hills) was fifth.
Clint Bowyer was sixth followed by the winner of the opening stage, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon.
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.
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.
Newgarden prevails in Portland
Josef Newgarden tightened his grip on the IndyCar championship with a trouble-free run at Portland International Raceway and a victory by teammate Will Power.
Power won for the second time in three races, and the victory was critical because it prevented any of Newgarden’s title contenders from taking the top spot on the podium.
Newgarden started with a 38-point lead in the standings, finished fifth and now takes his bid for a second title in three years to the Sept. 22 season finale to Laguna Seca in California.
“I am happy for Will, I wanted Will to win the race,” Newgarden said. “If we weren’t going to win it, then he’s the guy to win and take the points away from somebody else.”
Power understood the task for Team Penske and Chevrolet, and understood he had to prevent Alexander Rossi and five-time and reigning series champion Scott Dixon from winning at Portland and closing in on Newgarden’s points lead. Rossi finished third, but still trails Newgarden by 41 points, while Dixon was in control of the race early until his battery died and is now a longshot to win the title.
“Just so stoked get to victory lane, helps the team, keeps the other guys from getting points,” Power said.
Less than thrilled was Rossi, who believed Portland was the place to pounce after Newgarden had a poor qualifying effort. It put Newgarden in 13th at the start and in the thick of the chaos that began with a multi-car crash in the opening turn. Newgarden, realizing he must only stay out of trouble in two races to win the title, remained calm and avoided the carnage.
“I was in the wrong place, I can tell you that,” he said. “I saw someone come barreling at me, so I just tried to stop and go around. When you start that far back, you run the risk of being part of something like that.”
Even after dropping to the back of the field, he still managed to drive his way toward the front and finish just two spots behind Rossi. While it’s still a matchup of a pair of American drivers racing for the title at Laguna Seca, Rossi knows he must win the finale and hope Newgarden has a disastrous race to win the championship.
Rossi was runner-up to Dixon in last year’s title race.
“It’s disappointing. We are on the podium from (starting) seventh and Josef was at the back at the beginning, and it’s just tough,” Rossi said. “He’s just always coming through. It’s hard when you have a good day and it’s just not good enough.”
Leclerc wins Belgian Grand Prix
While four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel continues to struggle, his young teammate Charles Leclerc is emerging as Ferrari’s No. 1 driver.
The 21-year-old Leclerc clinched the first Formula One win of what is widely expected to be a stellar career at the Belgian Grand Prix. Vettel finished fourth despite starting second on the grid behind Leclerc.
Vettel is now 21 races without a win. Leclerc has one in just his 13th race for Ferrari and only his second season in F1.
He leads Vettel 3-1 in pole positions, and 6-0 in qualifying over the past six races. He showed great poise and nerve to hold off championship leader and five-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race.
“His results speak for themselves,” Hamilton said. “It’s not easy for any driver to jump into a top team like Ferrari against a four-time world champion, with much more experience, and then to continuously out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive (him).”
Leclerc also gave Ferrari its first win since former driver Kimi Raikkonen’s victory at the United States GP last October.
Vettel’s last win came at last season’s Belgian GP. He is fourth in the championship and a massive 99 points behind Hamilton, having led and lost the past two championships to the British driver.
Although Leclerc is fifth overall, he would have won in Bahrain earlier this season if not for a late engine failure out of his control.