DARLINGTON, S.C. – In an instant classic, Brandon Jones found himself in the right place at the right time to steal the victory in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.
Jones was running third coming to the white flag when Denny Hamlin attempted a slide-job pass of then-leader Ross Chastain going into turn three. Though Hamlin cleared Chastain, he carried too much speed into the corner apex and slid up the track and into the outside wall in the fourth corner.
Moments later, Chastain slammed into the back of Hamlin’s car as it slowed due to the wall contact, allowing Jones to power past both stricken machines by ducking to the inside of the race track.
Wheeling a throwback paint scheme honoring Robert Huffman’s 2003 Goody’s Dash Series championship-winning colors, Jones led only the final two laps en route to victory.
The Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 marked Jones’ third Xfinity Series win of the season and the fourth of his career. All four victories have come at the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing-owned No. 19 Toyota.
“Look at the right side of this thing. I think everybody’s (car) looks like this, and that is what is so much fun about this track,” noted Jones after climbing from his winning mount. “This is a tough place to get around. You saw them (Hamlin and Chastain) really racing hard, and I knew I was catching them. We knew Denny was going to pull that big slider and that’s what you have to do sometimes to clear them.
“But all in all, what a day. We had the Robert Huffman paint scheme. This is so big for Toyota,” Jones added. “Myself, oh my gosh … this place is huge on so many levels, (winning) on Southern 500 weekend. We will take it. Three wins this year. We will keep going. I think there’s more yet to come.”
Hamlin, who started last due to NASCAR’s performance matrix, raced his way through the field in 33 laps to take the lead. He went on to sweep the opening two stages, leading three times for 31 laps.
The driver who dominated the afternoon, however, was Chase Briscoe. The Mitchell, Ind., native – who won the Xfinity Series’ return to racing at Darlington in May – was out front six times for a race-high 55 circuits on Saturday.
However, Briscoe’s shot at victory came to an untimely end on lap 118, when he spun out of the lead due to rear-end grease from Brett Moffitt’s ailing No. 02 Chevrolet that had slicked down the race track.
That led to an eight-minute, 59-second red flag and an eventual 21-lap shootout to the finish. Ryan Sieg held the point on the restart, but ceded command to Chastain at the green as Hamlin grabbed second.
Lap after lap, Hamlin tried to close and lap after lap, Chastain fended off the Cup Series regular’s advances. A move to the inside with 13 to go failed for Hamlin, causing him to regroup several car lengths back.
Hamlin tried again with seven laps left, nearly clearing Chastain but again having to slide back into line. All the while, Jones was lurking in third after passing Sieg and beginning to close.
Finally, with two to go Hamlin was right on Chastain’s bumper exiting turn two and took his run to the inside of the track down the backstretch. The power move into three didn’t pay, however, ultimately sealing Jones’ victory.
Chastain limped his wounded machine home second, 3.363 seconds back, followed by Sieg, Riley Herbst and Hamlin.
Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson, Michael Annett, Austin Hill and Myatt Snider filled out the top 10.
Briscoe battled back from his late spin to finish on the lead lap in 11th.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series season continues Sept. 11 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.