Brandon Jones steals Darlington Xfinity win as leaders wreck
Brandon Jones cleared the melee between Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin with one lap to go and escaped with a thrilling victory Saturday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
With two of 147 laps remaining in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Jones had finally moved within striking distance of Chastain and Hamlin, who were battling furiously for the lead.
Chastain had remained out front until Hamlin passed him in Turn 3 with one to go. As Hamlin came up in front of Chastain to clear him, Chastain got in the Hamlin’s left-rear bumper and the two made contact.
As both fell briefly off the pace, Jones scurried by and into the lead, hanging on for his third series victory of the 2020 season and fourth of his career.
“I mean, look at the right side of this thing. I think everybody’s looks like this and that is what is so much fun about this track. This is a tough place to get around,” Jones said. “You saw them really racing hard, and I knew I was catching them.
“We knew we was going to pull that big slider and that’s what you have to do sometimes to clear them. We will take it. Three wins this year. We will keep going. I think more to come.”
Asked what happened from his perspective, Hamlin said, “I thought I could clear (Chastain) and get slowed up in time before I got to the wall, just couldn’t make up for the loss of track position we kept getting.
“He was running his line, I was running mine, we had a great race there. It was fun, it just didn’t work out.”
Said Chastain: “Denny was faster, I knew that. Everybody watching knew that. I just kept ripping the top best I could. I think I hit the wall 25 times, I was really struggling on entry.”
Chastain held on for second, Ryan Sieg was third, Riley Herbst was fourth and Hamlin ended up fifth.
Completing the top-10 were Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson, Michael Annett, Austin Hill and Myatt Snider.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap cars all pit again with Chase Briscoe the first off pit road.
The race returned to green on Lap 96 with Briscoe leading the way followed by Chastain, Jones and Hamlin.
On Lap 98, Hamlin had moved into the second spot and began challenging Briscoe for the lead.
A caution was displayed on Lap 100 after Jeremy Clements’ car stalled on the backstretch. Briscoe was among a handful of lead-lap cars that elected to pit for new tires.
On the restart on Lap 107, Hamlin led the way followed by Chastain and Jones.
David Starr wrecked in Turn 3 on Lap 109 to bring out another caution. The lead-lap cars that did not pit under the previous caution did pit under this one.
Briscoe inherited the lead and led the way on the restart on Lap 116. Hamlin restarted 10th.
On Lap 117, Briscoe spun entering Turn 1 as did Anthony Alfredo after the car of Brett Moffitt appeared to dump oil on the track.
NASCAR red-flagged the race for nearly nine minutes to clean the track in Turns 1 and 2.
When the race returned to green on Lap 127, Sieg led the way followed by Burton and Hamlin.
Chastain powered around Sieg exiting Turn 4 and grabbed the lead on the restart lap.
On Lap 131, Hamlin moved into second, setting himself up to challenge Chastain for the race lead.
With 10 laps to go, Chastain maintained a small lead over Hamlin but both were rim-riding the corner walls in their effort to find speed.
With five laps remaining, Hamlin got alongside Chastain in Turns 3 and 4 but got loose and couldn’t complete the pass.
Hamlin secured the Stage 2 win under caution as Gragson and Dexter Bean made contact off Turn 4 on Lap 89 and there wasn’t enough time to restart the race.
Jones ended up second, Briscoe third, Chastain fourth and Burton rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars elected to pit with Briscoe the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 52, Briscoe was followed by Chastain and Austin Cindric. Hamlin restarted 12th after a slow pit stop.
With 25 laps remaining in the stage, Briscoe had built a 1-second lead over Cindric. Hamlin had worked his way back up to fifth.
On Lap 75, Justin Allgaier dropped down to pit road for a pit stop under green for an issue with his right-front tire.
Brandon Jones had closed to within a second of leader Briscoe with 10 laps to go in the stage. Hamlin ran third.
On Lap 82, Hamlin passed Jones to move into the runner-up position behind Briscoe.
Hamlin completed his rebound by passing Briscoe for the lead on Lap 83 and regaining control of the race.
With five laps to go in the stage, Jones reclaimed the second spot from Briscoe.
After battling his way from the rear of the field Hamlin easily got around Chastain and cruised to the Stage 1 victory by more than 4 seconds.
Cindric was third, Briscoe fourth and Gragson rounded out the top-five.
Justin Haley, who started on the pole, led the first lap before a multi-car accident erupted off Turn 2 on Lap 2 which collected Brandon Brown, Sieg and Daniel Hemric.
“Frustrating, man. I had high hopes coming into today,” Hemric said. “I don’t know, just the way this season’s been.You only get so many opportunities and I can’t be here (in the garage) talking to you guys. I don’t know what's going to happen moving forward.”
The race returned to green on Lap 9 with Haley still leading the way followed by Cindric and Briscoe.
Briscoe powered into the lead for the first time on the backstretch with Chastain moving up to second.
Chastain got around Briscoe off Turn 4 on Lap 12 to grab the lead as Briscoe dropped to second and Cindric ran third.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 21 to allow teams to check for tire wear. Most of the lead-lap cars remained on the track. Chastain continued to lead the way on the restart on Lap 26.
On Lap 31, Hamlin moved into second on the exit of Turn 2 and on Lap 32, he got around Chastain in Turn 3 to take the lead for the first time in the race.
With 10 laps remaining in the first stage, Hamlin had opened up more than a 1-second lead over Chastain as Cindric ran third.
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