NASCAR Barometer: Jones Earns Second Career Win in 100th Start

NASCAR Barometer: Jones Earns Second Career Win in 100th Start

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Erik Jones finally joined his teammates by scoring a 2019 win in Sunday night's rain-delayed Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Jones ran strongly throughout the race distance but truly came to the forefront in the final stage when he took charge of the lead from Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at lap 283. From that moment he went on to lead 79 of the last 84 laps. He weathered challenges from both Larson and Busch, as he found the grit and determination he needed to stay out front to claim another win at an iconic track.

This week the series heads to another icon in Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is the first time Indy will play host to the final round of the regular season, which will make a win there even more special for whoever takes it. Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez sit on the cusp of making the playoffs, both tied on points at the cutoff line. Jimmie Johnson will need a small miracle to make it through 18 points behind. Still, there is everything to play for and Indianapolis is a place where strategy could throw out a surprise victor.

UPGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones joined the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing garage with a win in 2019 in a gritty display in Sunday night's Southern 500. It was Jones' 100th start in the series and the 13th win for the JGR team this season. The victory gives him valuable momentum with just one more

Erik Jones finally joined his teammates by scoring a 2019 win in Sunday night's rain-delayed Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Jones ran strongly throughout the race distance but truly came to the forefront in the final stage when he took charge of the lead from Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at lap 283. From that moment he went on to lead 79 of the last 84 laps. He weathered challenges from both Larson and Busch, as he found the grit and determination he needed to stay out front to claim another win at an iconic track.

This week the series heads to another icon in Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is the first time Indy will play host to the final round of the regular season, which will make a win there even more special for whoever takes it. Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez sit on the cusp of making the playoffs, both tied on points at the cutoff line. Jimmie Johnson will need a small miracle to make it through 18 points behind. Still, there is everything to play for and Indianapolis is a place where strategy could throw out a surprise victor.

UPGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones joined the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing garage with a win in 2019 in a gritty display in Sunday night's Southern 500. It was Jones' 100th start in the series and the 13th win for the JGR team this season. The victory gives him valuable momentum with just one more race remaining until the knockout races of the playoffs get underway. It was his second series win and one of the biggest races a driver can win in the series. He gave his all to hold off the ultra-quick Kyle Larson as well as teammate Kyle Busch. Jones can focus on the playoffs but could add more momentum this week at Indianapolis where he finished second last season.

Kyle Busch – Busch's team opted to change the engine in his car after a poor showing in qualifying and dropped to the rear for the start of Sunday's race. He spent the first stage working his way forward and then won his 10th stage of the season in the second segment of the night. By the finish, he was fighting for the lead and ultimately finished in the third-place position in an incredible turnaround from Saturday. The effort landed him the regular-season championship, too. Busch has started from pole in the last three Brickyard 400s and won two of the last four. He also led laps in those four races, which makes him an early favorite for inclusion in this week's fantasy lineups.

Kurt Busch – Busch started the Southern 500 by stalking the lead and took command in the final laps of the first segment to claim the first stage win of the night. By the finish, he'd slipped back as a result of contact in a larger wreck ahead of him, but he never fell out of the top 10 despite the drama. When all was said and done, he led 94 laps and finished in the seventh position, which was his third top-10 in the last five races. Busch only has one top-five Indianapolis finish from his 18 career starts and finished sixth in last year's race. It wouldn't be inconceivable to see Busch carry himself deep into the championship rounds.

Kyle Larson – Larson continued to prove his worth at Darlington, running out front and putting himself in position to win. He had the fastest car throughout most of the night but couldn't overcome Jones in the final laps to close out an otherwise top performance. Still, running at the front and fighting for wins is where Larson wants to be. His spot in the playoffs is secure, but a win this week would add to his growing potential in the playoff stretch. Larson started his career at Indianapolis with three consecutive top-10 finishes, but he hasn't finished better than 14th in the last two seasons there. He crashed out of the 2017 race and faded from a top-10 start last season.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski barely scratched the top 10 early in Sunday night's Southern 500 and then complained of handling issues during the final stage. The team was the first to come down pit lane with more than 100 laps remaining in the race when Keselowski misjudged his entry and missed the entrance. That mistake cost him at least 10 seconds on top of his slower pace due to poor handling. Still, he bounced back to claim a surprising top-five finish – his second consecutive. Keselowski won last season's Brickyard 400 and finished runner-up there the year before. Penske Racing could use a little momentum before the playoffs begin, and Keselowski will be looking to seize it this week.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson mostly had the night he was hoping for Sunday, running up near the top five throughout the 500 miles, leading laps and earning valuable points to help chip away at his deficit to the playoff positions. Slipping back to 16th in the final laps didn't reflect his performance on the night, though. With one race remaining to make the playoffs, he sits 18 points adrift from the bubble position. Indianapolis has been a happy hunting ground for the No. 48, however. Johnson won four Brickyard 400s but only has one top-five in the last five races at the track. The team is close to re-entering the championship battle but will need everything to go their way this weekend.

Joey Logano – Logano endured a frustrating night at Darlington, first fighting with Chase Elliott and then suffering a flat rear tire after slight contact with Jones. Luckily, he saved the car from spinning out of control but fell down the order when pitting after. He struggled to be competitive through the rest of the distance and settled for a disappointing 14th-place finish. Penske Racing is searching for the early-season momentum it had and only has one more race to find it before the championship playoffs get underway. Logano has been pretty good at Indianapolis despite having never won at the circuit. He was runner up in 2015 and has an average finish of 11.8 from 10 career starts.

Martin Truex Jr. – A loose wheel put Truex behind the game in the second stage Sunday night at Darlington and he never truly recovered from the setback. He returned to the track after the unscheduled stop to fix the problem and battled to stay within one lap of the lead, hoping to get a caution to move back up to the same lap as the leaders until late in the second stage. He eventually cycled back to the lead lap but failed to move further up the running order in the final fuel runs. Truex failed to finish the last two Brickyard 400s and only has three top-10 finishes at the track from 14 career starts. Two finishes outside of the top 10 from the last two races isn't how he would like to go into the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin's run of top form ended when he was up front Sunday night in Darlington but was caught in a wreck ahead of him. His machine took a hard hit and put him straight into the pits for repairs. His race for the win was over in that instant and he only managed to recover a 29th-place finish, which was his first finish out of the top five since July's visit to Daytona. Hamlin finished third in last season's Brickyard 400 and only finished outside of the top 15 twice in the last seven races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has had the most momentum of any championship contenders in recent weeks, and fantasy owners will have to wait and see if Sunday's misfortune will spell the end of it.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt DiBenedetto – At this point DiBenedetto scoring a top finish is not a surprise, but his top-10 at Darlington was his best finish at the track by far. Darlington is an aerodynamic track on which it takes a special touch to be fast. DiBenedetto had previously shown little prowess at the track but impressed yet again Sunday night by punching above his weight. His eighth-place finish was his third top-10 in the last five races and his sixth of the season. This has been his greatest year in the series by far, and it would be a shame if he has to take a step back next year after losing his spot at Leavine Family Racing. He was eighth at Indy in 2017, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him finish in the top 10 there again this week.

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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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