Brad Keselowski

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Something finally goes right for Erik Jones in first Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — For the first time since March, fortune finally bounced in Erik Jones‘ favor.

That was after a piece of debris bounced through his grille.

On Lap 20 of the Coca-Cola 600, debris from a wreck between Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski littered the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jones, running in the top 10, managed to avoid the wreck itself. But the rookie couldn’t avoid whatever caused a football-sized hole in the nose of his No. 77 Toyota.

“You start the day off like that and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s not going to be easy,'” said Jones, who finished a career best seventh. “That kind of hurt us all day, I think. Not a ton. Obviously we had still had a fast car, but it was definitely slowing us down some.”

Competing in the longest race of his career to date, the episode looked like the latest in a series of misfortunes that have plagued the driver, who turns 21 on Tuesday.

Jones entered the race with two DNFs in the last three points races and three DNFs if you counted the previous weekend’s All-Star Race.

Before the All-Star Race, Jones caused three cautions at Kansas Speedway for spins before finishing 22nd. He wrecked out at Talladega in a big crash and the week before that was eliminated at Richmond when the race was five laps old.

Entering the longest race of the year, Jones had just one top-10 finish, eighth at Phoenix.

Following the accident Sunday, Jones restarted 27th. The rest of the night was “smooth” on the way to his best finish in 15 Cup starts.

“I think we had a top-five car,” Jones said. “Kind of missed on a couple of adjustments at the end, got behind on the racecar a little bit. Just kind of fell back at the end.”

By the halfway point at Lap 200 and after a 1 hour and 39 minute rain delay, he was in eighth. During the 400-lap race, his average running spot was 11.8.

“We didn’t have any troubles in the pits,” Jones said. “We didn’t have any troubles on the track (after the Lap 20 accident), we had a pretty good car all night. So it was just nice to have a solid night. I feel like we’re plenty capable of running in the top 10 every week, we just got to keep having days and night like this.”

Jones is now 18th in the points standings and 10 points ahead of fellow rookie Daniel Suarez.

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Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. extends playoff points lead with win in second stage

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CONCORD, N.C. – Martin Truex Jr. extended his lead in the playoff points standings Saturday by winning the second stage of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With his series-high sixth stage victory of the season, Truex has 16 playoff points, four more than second-ranked Brad Keselowski.

Truex, who led a record 392 of 400 laps in winning this race last year, finished 0.352 seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Matt Kenseth was third, followed by Kyle Busch (who won the first stage) and Kurt Busch.

The rest of the top 10 (scoring stage points): Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin.

The second stage was red-flagged for a storm on Lap 143. The stoppage lasted nearly one hour and 40 minutes.

Danica Patrick brought out a yellow on Lap 173 after scraping the wall with a tire problem.

Ryan Blaney fell five laps off the pace because of a broken axle in his No. 21 Ford.

 

Kyle Busch leads Coke 600 after first stage

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch led the Coca-Cola 600 after the first 100-lap stage in the 400-lap race.

Busch passed Martin Truex Jr. with 10 laps remaining in the stage. The Monster Energy All-Star Race winner led 35 laps in the stage.

The top 10 after 100 laps: Kyle Busch, Truex, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson (sixth after starting 39th), Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Busch earned his third playoff point of the year with the stage win in the first race to feature four stages.

There was one caution in the first stage on Lap 20. Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s No. 33 Chevrolet began smoking on the frontstretch, and a piece of debris broke off of his car and struck Chase Elliott‘s No. 24 Chevrolet.

As Elliott slowed exiting the tri-oval, flames erupted underneath the front of his car. Oil on the track prevented Brad Keselowski from avoiding Elliott as he plowed into the back of his car.

Debris from the accident caused cosmetic damage to Danica Patrick‘s car and damage to Erik Jones‘ car. Jones was in 13th after the first stage. Patrick led seven laps following green flag stops.

The field went through a green-flag pit stop cycle from Laps 64 – 68. Denny Hamlin, Cole Whitt and Corey LaJoie were caught speeding. Hamlin fell to 21st, the last car on the lead lap.

Lap leaders in the first segment included Harvick (42), Kyle Busch (35), Truex (15), Patrick (seven) and Johnson (one).

 

Freak accident eliminates Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski early in the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski were eliminated from the Coca-Cola 600 in a bizarre accident that caused a caution on the 20th of 400 laps Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 Chevrolet suffered an engine problem that littered the 1.5-mile oval with oil and some debris. Elliott’s No. 24 Chevy seemed to run over a stray part, sparking flames beneath the car.

As Elliott quickly slowed, he was rear-ended by Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford.

“Somebody broke, and there was just oil everywhere,” Keselowski said. “I couldn’t turn. I ran into the back of Chase. It’s a real bummer for our team. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford, and I think we had a shot at winning tonight, but that’s how it goes.”

Said Elliott: “This is so disappointing. Our Chevy was going to be all right as the night went along. But (Jeffrey Earnhardt) broke something, I guess, and I hit it hard and I saw some fire … I hate it. It’s such a bummer. We’ll just go after it again next week.”

Earnhardt was listed as finishing last in the race; Keselowski likely will place 39th, and Elliott 38th.