Kyle Busch's late miscue opened the door for Erik Jones to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive for Safety 300 Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Busch led 154 of 200 laps and seemed well on his way to victory, but after he spun out with 19 laps to go, Jones took advantage by holding off the hard-charging Kyle Larson for his fourth win of the season.
Here is a look at how the rest of the top 10 sorted out, courtesy of NASCAR.com:
|Drive for Safety 300 Finishing Order|
While Busch's slip-up dominated headlines, Saturday's race also represented the final event prior to the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title. The 12-driver field is officially set with Jones, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez entering in the top three positions, respectively, as the only Xfinity Series regulars to win races this season.
The following is a full list of the drivers who will compete for a championship in the Xfinity Series' first-ever playoff system:
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Chase Standings|
|6||Darrell Wallace Jr.||2,000||-12||0|
The early laps of the race featured an entertaining battle between Busch and perhaps one of NASCAR's biggest future stars in Suarez.
They traded the lead four times in the first 12 laps, and while the Mexican youngster showed plenty of promise and gumption, Busch reminded him why he's the reigning Sprint Cup champion with moves like the one seen in this Vine from NASCAR Xfinity on Twitter:
In addition to Suarez, Busch received a challenge from a Sprint Cup rival in Larson, who got aggressive to make a pass on Lap 32:
Larson has seemingly been brimming with confidence in recent weeks after winning his first career Sprint Cup race and qualifying for the Chase, but his time in front was short-lived.
After Larson led for nine laps, Busch overtook him on Lap 41 and led for much of the next 140 laps.
Amid his dominance, Busch achieved a remarkable milestone in terms of laps led for the season despite sitting out several races, according to Joe Gibbs Racing:
With Busch in firm control, the rest of the field got fidgety at times, which led to the yellow flag waving on a few occasions.
Larson was involved in one such instance on the 101st lap, as he got into the back of Ryan Reed to bring out a caution:
Despite a number of cautions and some green-flag pit stops, Busch never conceded the lead for more than a few laps at a time as the race progressed due to the combination of great work by his pit crew and some phenomenal restarts.
Jones took the lead briefly on Lap 165, only for Busch to take it right back, which left the rising star searching for answers, per Chicagoland Speedway on Twitter:
While Jones likely needed a break to go in his favor in order to steal the win, that is precisely what happened, as Busch lost control of his car with just 19 laps remaining in the race and was forced to settle for a 13th-place finish:
That set the stage for a wild restart that saw Sadler emerge as the leader, but Jones kept him close and reeled him in.
With just six laps left in the race, Jones made the pass on his top Xfinity Series title competitor to regain the lead:
Jones was far from safe, however, as Larson passed Sadler and continued to close the gap over the final few laps.
Although Larson came close to making the pass on several occasions, Jones managed to hold him off, and Larson tapping the wall on the final lap provided a big enough gap for Jones to preserve the victory.
Busch's late mistake put the spotlight on the Xfinity Series regulars in the final race prior to the Chase, and fans enjoyed a preview of how dramatic and competitive the playoffs promise to be.
Jones was in line to enter the Chase in first as the winningest driver regardless of what happened Saturday, but entering Victory Lane was huge in terms of building momentum over the other title contenders.
The 20-year-old is the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, and after what he managed to pull off at Chicagoland, he has to be considered the Xfinity Series favorite this year.
Jones overcame plenty to take the checkered flag Saturday, and he admitted that even he wasn't sure if he would be able to get back to the front after getting shuffled back for the final restart of the race, according to Reid Spencer of NASCAR.com:
It was tough. I knew we were in a good spot on tires, but we pretty far back—think we restarted sixth there.
I didn't know if my Hisense Camry was going to have enough time to get back up to the front, but we had a really good restart and got clear to third and then just had to go chase Elliott down. It was a matter of time before we got around him. What an awesome day!
While Jones passed Sadler for first place in the closing stages, his effort was almost all for naught due to Larson. The No. 42 car fell just short, though, and Larson described what happened on the final lap, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com): "On the last lap I tried to get to the throttle early and try to get a run on him on exit. I knew I would be flirting with the edge there, and I just got over it and got into the wall and ended our shot."
Larson has been driving with the utmost confidence as of late, and the fact that Jones was able to hold him off Saturday bodes well for his chances in the Chase for the Xfinity Series championship.
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