Erik Jones, 18, holds off Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. to earn first career Xfinity Series win

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There must be something about being 18 years old and racing in the spring at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott won his first Xfinity Series race at the 1.5-mile track last spring, and Erik Jones did the same thing in Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Jones started on the pole, led 79 laps in the 200-lap event, and held off Sprint Cup stars Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s really surreal,” Jones said. “This is going to take a while to sink in. This has to be the biggest win of my career. … We’re in victory lane and we’re just going to take it in.”

Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. both spoke highly of Jones’ win – and how he did it.

“It was up and down, not quite where we wanted to be at the end, we came up one spot short,” Keselowski said. “We ran wide open for the last 2-3 laps, but eventually he just had a little bit more speed.”

Added Earnhardt, “Too loose the whole race really. Mostly, we needed more wedge. Erik and Joe Gibbs did a great job. He’s a great fast kid and is going to do good in this sport. … I knew he was good. Now everybody knows he is.”

Earnhardt later tweeted to Jones, saying, “Hell of a job, dude.”

Regan Smith finished fourth, followed by Austin Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Denny Hamlin, Elliott, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott.

How Jones won: Jones led the final 51 laps, and looked like an experienced veteran every time he was challenged, most notably by Keselowski and Earnhardt. He got a great jump on the final restart on Lap 173 and began to pull away, eventually leading Keselowski by more than two seconds.

Who else had a good day: For series regulars, Regan Smith didn’t lead a lap but still came home with a strong fourth-place finish. He just didn’t seem to have quite as strong a car as teammate Earnhardt, who finished one spot ahead of him. … Also having a strong run was Darrell Wallace Jr., who led three laps and finished sixth.

Who had a bad day: Brendan Gaughan had a good run going until he was caught up in a wreck 33 laps from the end. Instead of a possible top-10 finish, Gaughan wound up with a disappointing 33rd-place finish.

Notables: Brad Keselowski qualified second but was forced to drop to the back of the field for an unapproved fuel pump found during inspection. However, that didn’t seem to hinder Keselowski, who climbed from 40th to 7th in 33 laps and then took the lead for the first time on Lap 47. … Bubba Wallace was the highest-finishing rookie in sixth. “We just missed it by a little bit,” Wallace said. … Brandon Gdovic made his Xfinity debut, finishing 26th.

Quote of the day: “I’ll probably look like a dork, but I’ll find out tonight.” – Erik Jones when asked after the race how he thinks he’ll look when he puts the victory cowboy hat on.

What’s next: The Xfinity Series moves to Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 18, for the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.

Unofficial results of O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:

1 Erik Jones … 200 laps
2 Brad Keselowski … 200 laps
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 200 laps
4 Regan Smith … 200 laps
5 Austin Dillon … 200 laps
6 Darrell Wallace Jr. … 200 laps
7 Denny Hamlin … 200 laps
8 Chase Elliott … 200 laps
9 Chris Buescher … 200 laps
10 Brian Scott … 200 laps
11 Elliott Sadler … 200 laps
12 Ty Dillon … 200 laps
13 Brennan Poole … 200 laps
14 Sam Hornish Jr. … 200 laps
15 Ryan Reed … 200 laps
16 Dakoda Armstrong … 200 laps
17 John Wes Townley … 200 laps
18 Daniel Suarez … 199 laps
19 JJ Yeley … 199 laps
20 Ryan Sieg … 199 laps
21 Ross Chastain … 199 laps
22 Jeremy Clements … 198 laps
23 David Starr … 198 laps
24 Mike Bliss … 197 laps
25 Landon Cassill … 197 laps
26 Brandon Gdovic … 196 laps
27 Harrison Rhodes … 195 laps
28 Mario Gosselin … 195 laps
29 Eric McClure … 192 laps
30 Peyton Sellers … 190 laps
31 Joey Gase … 186 laps
32 Blake Koch … 182 laps
33 Brendan Gaughan … 167 laps
34 Cale Conley … 165 laps
35 Timmy Hill … 150 laps
36 Derrike Cope … 79 laps
37 Stanton Barrett … 11 laps
38 Jeff Green … 10 laps
39 Derek White … 7 laps
40 Mike Harmon … 2 laps

Average Speed: 132.989 mph
Time of Race: 02 hours, 15 minutes, 21 seconds
Margin of Victory: 1.624 seconds
Lead changes: 15 among 8 drivers

Laps led: Erik Jones (79), Brad Keselowski (56), Brian Scott (26), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (25), Dakoda Armstrong (7), Brendan Gaughan (3), Darrell Wallace Jr. (3), Austin Dillon (1).

Cautions: 6 for 30 laps

 

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