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And All Was Well....The 43 Car Returns To Victory Lane. Erik Jones Wins Darlington

Courtesy NASCAR (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

DARLINGTON, S.C. – In a race that had more twists and turns than a Victorian melodrama, Erik Jones put the vaunted No. 43 Chevrolet back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2014.

In a remarkable run to the finish in the season’s first NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race, Jones held off Denny Hamlin in a 20-lap run to the finish to win the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway for the second time.

The Sunday night race took its toll on more than a handful of Playoff drivers, as Jones became the first non-Playoff driver to win the first postseason event since NASCAR introduced the elimination format in 2014.

The victory was Jones’ first of the season, the third of his career, and the first for Petty GMS Racing since that organization was former by merger before the 2022 campaign. The win was No. 200 for the 43 car number, which NASCAR Hall of Famer and car owner Richard Petty drove to seven series championships.

“Richard hasn't been to Victory Lane at Darlington probably since he last won here,” said Jones, referencing Petty’s 1967 victory in the Southern 500. “It's just awesome. Just so proud of these guys, Petty GMS and (sponsor) Focus Packer Crew.

“We've been so close all year, and I didn't think today was going to be the day. It was going to be a tough one to win, I knew, but no better fitting place. I love this track. I love this race. On that trophy twice, man. I was pumped to be on it once, but to have it on there twice—pretty cool.”

The victory was the first in the Cup Series for crew chief Dave Elenz. Jones won his first Southern 500 in 2019, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing but was released after the 2020 season in favor of Christopher Bell. On Sunday night, Jones held off a former teammate in Hamlin, who ran out of time in his pursuit of Jones and finished in the runner-up spot, .252 seconds behind the race winner.

“Well, I mean, I never lost any belief in myself through any of it,” Jones said. “I knew I could still do it, and I just knew we needed to grow the program to do it, and we have. We've brought on a lot of great people in the last year. Dave Elenz called a great race today. His first Cup win—that's pretty cool for him.

“I'm excited, man. We've been talking about this day a long time, and it is redemption in a lot of ways. Very fitting that it's here at this race again. I felt like this was the race that saved my job the first time around, and coming back here with this win, I guess it puts you back on the map.”

Tyler Reddick ran third, followed by pole winner Joey Logano, who vaulted to the top of the Playoff standings, six points clear of second-place William Byron, who finished eighth on Sunday.

Jones got his chance at the front of the field when Kyle Busch, who had led a race-high 155 laps, suffered a blown engine as he prepared for the final restart. Busch had inherited the top spot when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., suffered a similar failure on Lap 333 of