Parks Pit Report: Coke Zero Sugar 400

The sweet taste of that first win is what Erik Jones felt Saturday night.

This weekend has been one of those in NASCAR where you see the jubilant reaction of victory, and then also the stunning heartbreak of defeat.  Although the latter wasn’t because of effort, but because of rules.

On Friday in the Xfinity Series race, the last-lap battle that was between Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler already was shaping up to be epic out of the final corner.

Suddenly, the ultimate dive-bomb move from Justin Haley made it three-wide heading to the line.  Haley passed both cars, and made it to the checkered flag first.  The crowd lost its mind seeing the move, and both Larson and Sadler were left shaking their heads.

Or so they thought.

Haley made the move, but the left-side tires crossed over the double line that separates the apron from the track.  NASCAR has these lines only at Daytona and Talladega, and just like the lines on the highway, crossing those lines to advance positions is illegal.  If a driver is forced down there and they advance position, it’s different, because that was the only lane they had available.  Had Haley stayed straight, or gave position back, he would be okay as well.  The problem is, that was the last lap.  No one gives up a thing at that point.  But, his tires went below the line, and despite it being a heartbreak for Haley, NASCAR made the correct, and clear-cut call.

Had they not made the call, there would be outrage, and inconsistency.  In this case, they HAD to make this call.  They got it right.

The following night, a wreck-fest that caused over half the field to end up in the garage, and of the half that remained on track, about 70% had some kind of damage.  But, the story in the end was a young kid that seemed to be liked by everyone, fans, teams and fellow competitors alike, was the one to take victory, the first one of his career.

There is not one bad thing that can be said about Erik Jones.  He debuted in the Cup series back in 2015 in a one-race deal while Kyle Busch recovered from a broken leg and ankle, and showed his talent right away.

Last year, alongside teammate Martin Truex Jr, he won the Rookie of the Year honors, while Truex took home a championship.  This year, he took over the car piloted by Matt Kenseth, but the equipment was familiar as Joe Gibbs Racing helps the Furniture Row operation with cars, engines, and even personnel.  It was a lateral move in a sense for Jones, as he was already familiar with the equipment.

This is a man who lost his father earlier this season.  His dad, years ago, sold his prized Chevrolet Corvette to help fund Jones’ racing career because he believed in what he would do.  This year, before he passed away, Jones went and bought back that same Corvette for his dad, and returned it to him.

Now, his career has come full circle, and even though his dad wasn’t there to see the joy of victory, he certainly was looking down with a smile, proud of what he did.

It’s a breath of fresh air with someone else in victory lane this season.  Combined, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have dominated this year.  Through 18 races, they have won all but five of them.  Seeing a first-time winner is just a bonus this time around.

Now, it’s onto the second half of the season.

STAGE 1:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

STAGE 2:  Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

RESULTS:  1-Jones  2-Truex Jr.  3-Allmendinger  4-Kahne  5-Buescher  6-Ty Dillon  7-DiBenedetto  8-Newman  9-Austin Dillon  10-Bowman

NOTABLE FINISHES:  14-Wallace  19-Harvick  22-Bowyer  33-Kyle Busch  39-Logano

CAUTIONS:  10 for 46 laps.  Lap 42-46 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 50-52 (#21, 48, 38 Incident-FS); 55-62 (#2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 41, 42, 43, 48, 88, 95, 72, 78, 1, 7, 15, 32, 34 Incident-T3); 66-69 (#1, 6, 17, 18, 20, 24, 72 Incident-T4); 82-86 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 125-128 (#17, 42 Incident-T4); 134-137 (#96 Spin-BS); 151-154 (#17 Spin-FS); 157-161 (#48, 10, 00, 34 Incident-T3); 163-166 (#4, 14, 43, 48, 15, 6, 17, 62, 88 Incident-T4 [Red Flag-5 Mins, 1 Sec.]).

LEAD CHANGES:  25 among 16 drivers.  C. Elliott 1-10; R. Stenhouse Jr. 11; C. Elliott 12; R. Stenhouse Jr. 13-42; Kyle Busch 43; B. Keselowski 44-52; W. Byron # 53-64; R. Stenhouse Jr. 65-69; R. Newman 70; R. Stenhouse Jr. 71-81; A. Bowman 82; A. Allmendinger 83; T. Dillon 84-86; C. Bowyer 87-88; M. McDowell 89-107; R. Stenhouse Jr. 108; J. Johnson 109-112; M. McDowell 113; J. Johnson 114-119; R. Stenhouse Jr. 120-122; K. Harvick 123; M. Truex Jr. 124-137; K. Kahne 138-154; K. Harvick 155-161; M. Truex Jr. 162-167; E. Jones 168.

TIME OF RACE:  3 Hrs, 13 Mins, 12 Secs.

AVERAGE SPEED:  130.435 MPH

MARGIN OF VICTORY:  0.125 Seconds

POINTS (Earned/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]):  1. Kyle Busch, 749 [30]; 2. Harvick, -57 [27]; 3. Truex Jr, -120 [18]; 4. Logano, -131 [7]; 5. Keselowski, -153 [4]; 6. Bowyer, -155 [10]; 8. Larson, -205; 9. Hamlin, -211 [2]; 10. Almirola, -246 [1]; 13. Jones, -301 [5]; 18. Austin Dillon, -402 [5].

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