Erik Jones claimed a crown jewel and punched his ticket to the NASCAR Playoffs by winning the Southern 500 Monday morning at Darlington Raceway. But it wasn’t easy for Jones, who had to hold off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson in order to become the 10th different winner of the 2019 season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Busch stalked Jones for the final 40-plus laps testing the driver who was one of his proteges at Kyle Busch Motorsports. But Jones was up to the task, crossing the start-finish line 4.058 seconds ahead of Larson and 17.168 seconds ahead of Busch to claim his second career victory in NASCAR’s top series. Kevin Harvick came across the line fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski to round out the top five.
Busch did not walk away empty-handed as he clinched the Regular Season Championship based on points thanks to his third-place finish. That title brings with it 15 playoff points for Busch, who also claimed his 10th stage win of the season for yet another precious playoff point.
Busch led a race-high 118 laps, and brother Kurt Busch wasn’t far behind with 94 laps led. Meanwhile, Jones led 79 laps to become the fourth Joe Gibbs Racing team to win this season.
Kurt Busch had the dominant car early and got the Stage 1 win, but he was involved in a six-car incident in the final stage that brought out the caution flag on Lap 274 of 367. Daniel Hemric, Denny Hamlin, pole winner William Byron, Michael McDowell and Jimmie Johnson were also caught in that wreck. Kurt ended up finishing seventh.
As a result of tonight’s action, four winless drivers clinched a playoff spot based on points: Larson, Byron, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola.