MENCS: Erik Jones Captures First Career Win in Chaos-Filled Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona

Erik Jones went to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday in a drama-filled Coke Zero Sugar 400. Jones, after taking the lead away from Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap, won his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race by leading only the last circuit.

The Byron, Michigan, native started 29th on the leaderboard and sat 23rd at the end of stage one and 26th in stage two.

“What a day. I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the into Victory Lane,” said Jones after capturing his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. “I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”

The 400-mile race had several multi-car accidents all throughout the running at the 2.5-mile oval. One of those incidents, on lap 55 in turn four, involved 25 cars. By halfway on lap 80, all but 10 cars in the field were listed as involved in some sort of an on-track incident by NASCAR.

As for Jones, the No. 20 Toyota was involved in only one yellow flag. That incident involved six other drivers in turn four.

“That was something else. I thought that we were out of it and we were right back in it. Took the lead and ran away. Wow, what an awesome race,” said Jones. “To have on here and my first win at Daytona. My first superspeedway win. What an awesome day. I am out of breath. Too much smoke in the car from that burnout. I can barely breathe. What an awesome finish.”

Martin Truex Jr. went on to a second-place finish in the No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing. Truex, also having a wild night at Daytona, will leave the track with his 12th top five and top 10 finish halfway into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top three finishers on Saturday at Daytona in the No. 47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet. Allmendinger will take the JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet to their first top five and third top 10 finish of the year. The California native leaves Florida sitting 23rd in points.

Kasey Kahne and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.

Kahne looked strong in the closing laps as he led the charge for 17 circuits from laps 138 to 154. The native from Washington State took home his first top five and top 10 finish since joining the Levine Family Racing team ahead of the season.

“Our Thorne Chevrolet was awesome.  It was great.  I figured it out in the second stage I knew that we had a car capable of winning if I did the right things with it.  I had opportunities to get to the lead.  We stayed there at a time but just didn’t figure it all out at the end there.  Erik Jones congrats to him.  (Martin) Truex was super-fast.  I was just trying to hang with those guys and I thought we had a really good shot at it,” said Kahne. “I was just kind of put in positions and I thought I could clear and get to the bottom when I was the leader.  That was my plan and the spotter said they were broken up on the bottom and the No. 88 was still fairly close, so I stayed there and then they went by on the bottom.  So, a little miscommunication there.  Later on, I got a run around the No. 78 off the corner and he just got me.  Just pulled me back enough and the No. 20 was coming and I just had to try to kind of block him the best I could but he got to my outside. But we had a great Thorne Chevrolet.  The guys did an awesome job.  Pit stops were strong, everything was good tonight.  Once we got up there we stayed there the rest of the race, the car was good.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had the wildest night of any driver in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 field. Stenhouse won both stages, led the most laps of any driver, and was involved in five of the 10 caution flags. Despite finding himself in all kinds of trouble – Stenhouse will take home a finish of 17th.

“I was really bummed.  The first one, the 24 blocked the 2 and from where I was sitting I thought we were gonna get to the inside of him, so I wasn’t really expecting him to check up that quick.  The second one with the 18, I was just too aggressive trying to get to his left-rear, trying to get back to the lead and back out front where our Fifth Third Ford was really dominant.  We definitely brought, I feel like, the best car here in the field.  Winning two stages was nice, but obviously we wanted to win at the end and it’s a bummer we basically crashed all of our teammates out of it.  It was kind of tough after that and it all came back to get me with the damage from the 42, which was probably a wreck I caused, cut a tire down in front of us.  A bummer of a night.  Congrats to Erik on his first win,” said Stenhouse.

“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing.  We needed to win to get in the Playoffs, so it is what it is,” said Stenhouse when asked if he’ll need to smooth things over.

JJ Yeley, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Ray Black II and Landon Cassill were the only drivers not listed by NASCAR as being involved in an accident.

After crashing out on lap 64, Kyle Busch was not happy with driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and shared his thoughts as such.

“I don’t know. Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash. Our Interstate Batteries Camry showed some good speed and patience there in that first stage. We were able to come home second and grab some points there. You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and figure out when or where, and hope you can walk away from it. That’s really frustrating and disappointing to have to race these races like that on the fence or line of when are you going to wreck. But we’ll move on to next week.”

The driver from Las Vegas with five wins this season took home a 33rd-place finish.

Other notable drivers along with Kyle Busch out before the halfway point included Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Corey LaJoie.  

Rest of the top 10 finishers included Ty Dillon, Matt DiBendetto, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman.

The next race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be at Kentucky Speedway on July 14. The Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart will air live on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Brett Winningham

Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.