Erik Jones moves Ryan Blaney and takes Xfinity win at Bristol
Erik Jones used some Bristol magic to pick up his second NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season.
With 20 of 300 laps remaining, Jones shoved Ryan Blaney out of position and claimed the lead in Saturday’s Fitzgerald 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
“He was looking at the 3 and I kind of dove in there hard,” Blaney said. “I was trying to get to the bottom. I tried to get into (Turn) 1 a little bit deeper, trying to protect but he was so much better than us on the short runs.
“He wasn’t going to back down and I wasn’t going to back out either. Just hard racing, that’s what that was.”
He then had to hold Blaney off on a three-lap shootout at the finish to earn his second consecutive Xfinity Series win of the season.
“Thank you team, thank you a lot. That was awesome,” Jones said over his team radio after taking the checkered flag.
The win is the eighth of Jones’ career and second at Bristol.
“Man, we were racing hard,” Jones said. “We ended up getting the lead and held onto it from there. Finally got out front, got into clean air and Reese’s Camry had enough to hold on till the end.
“Today, I didn’t know whether we had a winning car or not. We came back from the pit road penalty. It was a lot of fun. It was a race I won’t forget for a long time. It was just an awesome day for us.”
Daniel Suarez finished third, Elliott Sadler was fourth and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top five.
As the highest finishing qualified series regular, Hemric won the $100,000 Dash4Cash bonus. Along with Hemric, the other drivers who qualified for the bonus in the race were Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan and Cole Custer.
“Those checks are real when they have your name on it,” Hemric said with a laugh. “I was hoping we could get both of them there but running down at the bottom hurt us there on the restarts. All in all, it was a great performance for our guys. Being able to come from a lap down, get the lucky dog, making this Blue Gate Bank Chevy better and better, it was a true test from my group of guys. I can’t thank my guys enough. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a lot of good things for us.”
Hemric held off a furious charge by Blaney in a two-lap dash to win the second 85-segment.
Hemric not only collected a playoff point for the victory but also was one of two drivers – Gaughan was the other – to qualify for the Dash4Cash bonus to be awarded at the end of the race.
Blaney finished second in the Stage, followed by Gaughan, Suarez and Blake Koch.
The two-lap dash was set by following a round of pit stops following a long rain delay. Many of the lead-lap cars elected to pit, but Hemric and five others elected to remain on pit road to compete for the Stage win.
The race was halted by rain for one hour and 39 minutes with eight laps remaining in the second segment and Larson comfortably in the lead. At that point, he had led 154 of the 162 laps run so far.
The race stoppage was highlighted by a physical altercation between drivers Ross Chastain and Jeremy Clements on pit road. Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.
Kyle Larson, who started on the pole, dominated the first 85-lap segment, only briefly losing the lead twice to Jones.
On Lap 80, Ryan Reed hit the wall and brought out a caution which forced the first Stage to end under caution.
Blaney ended up second, Jones third, Austin Dillon fourth and Suarez in the Stage.
“Car is pretty good right now but I could stand to be a little freer to help my exit some,” Larson said over his team radio.
Custer, who was sixth in the Stage, and Allgaier, who was eighth, were the first two drivers to qualify for the $100,000 Dash4Cash bonus to be awarded at the end of the race.
Reed and Darrell Wallace Jr. were both forced to start the race from the rear of the field after their cars both failed pre-race inspection. Their front splitters did not conform to NASCAR rules.
Reed was forced to retire from the race and finished 38th.
“It was a tough day altogether, starting in the back,” said Reed. “The balance wasn’t very good and we went a lap down early. We were trying to fight through it, but had a tire go down and that ended our day. We’ll move on.”
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