DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Erik Jones won what should have been called the Busch Crash at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
After four accidents wiped out all but six drivers in the 18-car field, Jones, with a no-holds-barred push from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, held off Austin Dillon by .697-seconds in the third attempt of a green-white-checkered finish.
“Craziest race I’ve ever been in—let alone won,” said Jones, who missed his pit box, fell off the lead lap and was involved in three wrecks en route to his first Busch Clash win.
“I just missed the box, to be honest with you. Kind of knocking the rust off from last year. Got in too hot. You get back out on the track, I was trying to stay cool, hoping let's get a caution. Got back on the lead lap, got in one wreck, then another wreck. I think we got in another wreck.
“We had some great help there at the end from Denny. Awesome win. Really cool to start off like that, get the Sport Clips back in Victory Lane.”
For JGR, the victory marked the company’s ninth Busch Clash win. in addition to Jones and Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin completed the 88-lap contest.
Nine cars, led by then race leader Brad Keselowski, pitted on Lap 25 just prior to the competition caution. Keselowski regained the lead on Lap 29 but was collected on the first multi-car wreck on Lap 66 in Turn 4 when Joey Logano blocked Kyle Busch.
“I just got wrecked for no reason,” Keselowski said. “Dumb, dumb racing. Dumb moves being thrown out there. Guys that don't know what they are doing so they throw crazy blocks. It is just ridiculous. We shouldn’t be wrecking all these cars.
“I am not Tony Stewart, I am not as smart as he is and he can say it a lot better than I could but this is just dumb. We had a good race car. The MoneyLion Ford was capable of winning the race, led a lot of the race and we got destroyed for no reason.”
Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin also received damage in the accident but continued on.
Before the race could return to full speed, William Byron and Newman spun on the front stretch triggering a 10-car pileup on Lap 74 that eliminated Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Byron and sent the race into overtime.
Once again, the race returned to green until Hamlin spun entering Turn 4 when his tire went flat on Lap 78. The 11-car melee collected Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Aric Almirola, Logano and Blaney. NASCAR red-flagged the race for 7 minutes and 27 seconds.
With Dillon leading a pack of seven drivers, the race continued on Lap 83. The field didn’t get through Turn 4 before Chase Elliott’s tire gave way. On the third and final attempt to complete the race, Newman, who started from the pole, shot out to the lead. But without a dancing partner, he had no shot.
“We had good speed and the car drove good,” Newman said. “The strategy was good. We just didn’t have the alliance at the end to get that push. I blocked the 3 car but I didn’t see or know that Denny had the 20 lined up and a freight train coming on the outside. I knocked a left rear tire in blocking Austin.
“It was just unfortunate the way the timing worked out.”
Hamlin, who had dropped off the lead lap, was able to reach Jones and push the No. 20 Toyota to the finish.
“It was an awesome race,” Jones said. “I got to give a huge thanks to Denny there in the 11. He stuck with us there that whole last lap. It wasn't the fastest car I don't think left in the race, but we brought it home. I owe him one for that one, for sure.
“Really cool, though. Busch Clash, first year back to win that one. Sports Clips, these guys have been loyal to me the last two years. It's really cool to get them another win. Hopefully, next Sunday we cap off another one there.”