NASCAR Barometer: Jones Avoids Carnage, Captures Maiden Win

NASCAR Barometer: Jones Avoids Carnage, Captures Maiden Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Erik Jones survived Saturday night's wild Coke Zero Sugar 400 to outduel teammate Martin Truex Jr. and collect his first series victory. Early crashes took out most of the top contenders, and most who survived were involved in later wrecks. Jones and Truex both smartly played their hands by running cautiously throughout the distance to be at the front for the final Overtime restarts. The pair battled door-to-door the final two laps until Jones received a helpful push on the back straight that put him in sole possession of the lead.

Saturday's high attrition opened the door for a first-time winner to burst through the door, but with Truex, Harvick and Bowyer still in contention in the final miles, it appeared as though no one would take advantage of the opportunity. One final crash on the first attempt at an Overtime finish took the remaining Stewart-Haas Racing drivers out of the picture, setting up the intramural battle for the Furniture Row Racing boys. Plenty of smaller teams snagged top finishes, but at least one walked away with a target on his back. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made few friends with his aggressive driving style. He may have won the first two stages Saturday, but he also caused two of the race's biggest crashes on his way to doing so. The playoff picture isn't complete yet, but some drivers are watching their remaining chances to gain entry slip away with each passing week.

UPGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones survived the carnage Saturday

Erik Jones survived Saturday night's wild Coke Zero Sugar 400 to outduel teammate Martin Truex Jr. and collect his first series victory. Early crashes took out most of the top contenders, and most who survived were involved in later wrecks. Jones and Truex both smartly played their hands by running cautiously throughout the distance to be at the front for the final Overtime restarts. The pair battled door-to-door the final two laps until Jones received a helpful push on the back straight that put him in sole possession of the lead.

Saturday's high attrition opened the door for a first-time winner to burst through the door, but with Truex, Harvick and Bowyer still in contention in the final miles, it appeared as though no one would take advantage of the opportunity. One final crash on the first attempt at an Overtime finish took the remaining Stewart-Haas Racing drivers out of the picture, setting up the intramural battle for the Furniture Row Racing boys. Plenty of smaller teams snagged top finishes, but at least one walked away with a target on his back. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made few friends with his aggressive driving style. He may have won the first two stages Saturday, but he also caused two of the race's biggest crashes on his way to doing so. The playoff picture isn't complete yet, but some drivers are watching their remaining chances to gain entry slip away with each passing week.

UPGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones survived the carnage Saturday night to capture his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series victory. Successfully avoiding the race's many crashes set up a top finish for Jones, but an Overtime dual with teammate Martin Truex Jr. was what earned him the trophy. The Furniture Row Racing teammates both drove smart races throughout the night, which left them with relatively undamaged machines for the final sprint to the finish. The pair then led the race's final restart from the front row and battled one another through the two final official laps of the race. A huge push on the final lap enabled Jones to pull himself clear for the win. Jones will be on top of the world this week at Kentucky where he finished sixth last season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – It looked like Stenhouse would continue to make his case as one of the best restrictor-plate racers early Saturday. The Roush Fenway Racing driver dominated the first segment of the 400-mile race to take the stage win, leading more laps than he did in his last victory at the track. However, he then caused two big wrecks early in the second stage before going on to win that segment, too. Multiple issues in the final stage caused him to lose his shot at winning the race, though. Kentucky will be even more of a challenge for him with other drivers gunning for him after his aggressiveness Saturday. In five starts at the circuit he has never finished inside the top 10.

Ty Dillon – Dillon attempted to make the bottom lane work in the first stage on Saturday, but his aggressive move to the bottom fizzled out as that line moved backward as the cars on the outside maintained grip. Things got worse as the second stage got underway, as Dillon dropped to the apron and couldn't get up to speed with a fuel pressure issue. Those problems kept him out of two of the race's biggest wrecks, however. By the middle of the final stage, Dillon had a top-10 in his grasp and was able to hang on for sixth at the finish. While this hasn't been a great season for the team, Saturday's valuable top-10 could give them a boost for Kentucky.

Michael McDowell – McDowell put on a fine display Saturday night in Daytona despite crashing late in the running. The driver was consistently among the top three runners following the first big crashes and made some nice moves against some of the best in the business to lead his first laps in the series as well. While the rules package at Daytona equalized some of his competition, McDowell's performance behind the wheel proved that he deserves his spot in the field and should be garnering more looks from fantasy owners at certain circuits. He may not be a playoff contender, or even for regular top-10s, but his show on Saturday should be enough for fantasy owners to look his direction when searching for someone to complete their rosters.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was sitting pretty to take advantage of the first big wreck Saturday night. Simply staying clean and making it to the finish would have meant he had a chance at the win, and he almost assuredly would have walked away with valuable points as the playoffs approach. Instead, a second wreck triggered by Stenhouse sent Busch into leader William Byron and out of the race. Busch can rest easy given his prior wins this season, but exiting early with an advantage firmly in hand was not a good outcome. He'll be anxious to put last week behind him in Kentucky where he has two career poles and wins with an impressive average finish of 5.1 from seven career starts.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson had to use all of his driving talent to keep his car pointed forward to avoid the first big crash Saturday night, but it was a critical moment in his race that safely saw him avoid most of the carnage. He then quickly avoided another crash and went on to wrest the lead from Stenhouse deep into the race's final stage. However, pit penalties dropped him to the back. Multiple cautions put him back on the lead lap with less than 10 laps remaining but he was put in harm's way with yet another crash. This week will be a very different race than Daytona. Johnson has been quick at Kentucky in the past but has struggled to deliver finishes recently with two races outside of the top 30 in his last two visits.

Paul Menard – Given Wood Brothers Racing Ford's past Daytona prowess, expectations for a top finish were high for Menard Saturday night. However, contact with Johnson on the back straight early in the second stage put him at the back of the field with significant damage. It was terrible timing considering he was the first car to sustain damage from contact in the race. Menard has yet to settle into his new team despite winning the pole two weeks ago in Chicago. That work will continue this week in Kentucky, which could act a bit like that pole. However, his best finish at the track was 12th in 2014, and his average finish from seven career starts is just 19.3.

Chase Elliott – The weekend started off well for the No. 9 team, but starting from pole again at Daytona wasn't enough to push Elliott into his first series victory. In fact, it wasn't even enough to finish the race. The Hendrick Motorsports cars quickly lost their single-car speed advantage once racing got underway, and despite running up front in the early laps Elliott was caught in one of the race's many crashes. Simply surviving the race would have likely brought home a valuable top finish, but Elliott's poor restrictor-plate luck bit again and the team packed up early. Elliott will now have to focus on recovering the points he lost this week at Kentucky, where he finished third last season.

Penske Racing – The Penske Racing Fords entered Daytona International Speedway as the team to beat. The teammates topped practice and appeared to have the most powerful cars Saturday night. Instead, all three of were collected in first major wreck of the night. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney both walk away from the race knowing they should have had a chance to win. While Joey Logano does the same, he at least has a victory in his pocket to assure his shot at the playoffs. The organization has been playing catch up to the top three teams so far this season, and their first real chance at dominating a race literally went up in smoke Saturday night. Nine races remain for them to get two other drivers safely into the playoffs, and the pressure is only increasing.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kasey Kahne – Circumstances may have played into Kahne's favor Saturday night in Daytona, but he showed he can still be a driver capable of racing at the front if given a competitive machine. His new team, Leavine Family Racing, doesn't have the resources to battle at the front every week, but they can take advantage of situations like Saturday's. Kahne led 17 laps and remained in the mix for the win in the final Overtime restarts. His fourth-place finish will feel like a win for the small team and should give them some valuable prize money that will also help matters. This week may be a more difficult race for the organization to run up front, but Kahne was the runner-up in the 2012 edition.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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