Erik Jones wins Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway


DARLINGTON, S.C. — Sunday’s opening night of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs produced drama, damage and distress — all on the big stage of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway.

At the end of a long and zany evening, Petty GMS driver Erik Jones — not among the 16 playoff drivers —  emerged from the fire and frustration to win the 500, a major upset to open NASCAR’s playoff run.

After numerous playoff drivers had issues, Jones had the lead on a green-flag restart with 21 laps remaining. He jumped to a one-second lead on the first lap of green and held off second-place Denny Hamlin by .252 of a second at the finish. Tyler Reddick was third.

A significant chunk of the sport’s playoff drivers endured trouble — large and small. And fiery.

The results of the 500 jumbled the playoff standings. Leader Chase Elliott fell to ninth place. Kevin Harvick dropped seven spots to 16th. Joey Logano moved up a spot to take the lead. William Bryon moved into second and Denny Hamlin into third.

The night’s biggest issue landed squarely on the Chevrolet of Elliott, who entered the playoffs with a 15-point edge over second place. Elliott finished last after he lost control of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on lap 113. Elliott’s car sailed into the outside wall in Turn 2 and then was hit by Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Darlington Cup results

MORE: Darlington Cup driver points

Elliott’s team tried to complete repairs under the right rear of the car but ran out of time as the Damaged Vehicle Policy forced the No. 9 to park for the night.

By night’s end, Elliott was far from alone in the ugliness. Seven of the other 15 playoff drivers had problems, including former champion Harvick, who left the race after his car erupted in flames, leading him to angrily criticize NASCAR. Also parked was two-time champion Kyle Busch, who led 155 laps and appeared headed to his first Southern 500 victory before his Toyota’s engine expired, apparently because of a valve train failure, with 23 laps remaining. Martin Truex Jr., Busch’s teammate, also had a shot at the win but also parked with an engine issue.

The first major problem impacting a playoff driver occurred on lap 78 when defending champion Kyle Larson, fourth-seeded entering the playoffs, dropped onto pit road and lost three laps while his crew worked under the hood of the No. 5 Chevrolet. After service, Larson seemed to run competitive laps, but he returned to the track in 35th position. Later, on lap 193, Larson lost control of his car and backed into the wall exiting Turn 4. He rebounded from three laps down to race on the lead lap.

Near the end of Stage 1, trouble hit again within the playoff group as Elliott’s Chevrolet and Briscoe’s Ford were damaged.

Harvick saw his night end in a haze of fire and smoke on lap 277 of 367. Fire erupted under both sides of the No. 4 car, forcing Harvick, fighting smoke within the car, to park on the track apron and climb hurriedly through the driver-side window.

Harvick, who previously had criticized NASCAR for what he called safety issues with the Next Gen car, had pointed comments again in the garage area after he parked. He said the fire started despite the fact that he had not hit the wall or another car, blaming it on parts. Fire has been an issue several other times this year.

The win was the third of Jones’ career. The victory returned the famous No. 43, which carried Richard Petty to dozens of victories across the country, to Darlington’s victory lane for the first time since Petty won here in 1967. Petty was at the track during Sunday’s race but left before the finish.

William Byron won the first stage, his first stage win since April. Joey Logano led 64 laps during the stage to 48 for Byron.

Kyle Busch won the second stage in front of his teammate, Martin Truex Jr. Through two stages, Busch had led 82 laps to 64 for Logano.

Stage 1 winner: William Byron

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Erik Jones was in position to take advantage of others’ misfortunes, and he did exactly that, holding off second-place Denny Hamlin over the closing miles to score his first win of the year. … Tyler Reddick showed strength in the playoffs’ opening race, finishing a solid third. … Michael McDowell came home sixth.

Who had a bad race: Chase Elliott started the race atop the playoff standings and finished the race at the very bottom of the results sheet – 36th and last. … Kevin Harvick rode a flaming car to a stop, finishing 33rd. … Kyle Busch seemed to have the win in hand late in the evening but dropped out with a blown engine, finishing 30th.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.