Jones Cashes In At Darlington

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 5 2020

Brandon Jones captured Saturday’s Xfinity race in Darlington.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Brandon Jones’ consistency this season has paid dividends for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but it was his ability to capitalize on an opportunity Saturday at Darlington Raceway that resulted in his third NASCAR Xfinity Series victory this year.

With 10 laps remaining in the 147-lap race, Jones sat third, watching an intense battle between leader Ross Chastain and the second-place Denny Hamlin. The NASCAR Cup driver had won both stages and Chastain knew Hamlin possessed the faster car. Chastain knew his only hope at victory was to take away the groove Hamlin wanted. Lap after lap he successfully held Hamlin at bay. With seven laps remaining, Chastain made a daring move, squeezing his Chevrolet between the fourth-turn wall and Hamlin’s Toyota as Hamlin attempted a slide move to take the lead. 

Heading to the white flag, Hamlin again tried the slide maneuver on Chastain in turn four. This time Hamlin bounced off the wall, Chastain hit him in the rear and spun off turn four, and Jones threaded the needle between them to take the lead for the first time. 

“I knew that was probably going to come,” Jones said about the Chastain-Hamlin incident. “I planned for it. I knew the only way for Denny to make the pass was to pull that big slider. I had done it a few times today and it really takes a bunch out of the race car whenever you do that. I saw Ross checkup a little bit to prepare for that, but you have to slow down so much to make sure the car is going to turn by the time you get to the center and cut underneath them, and that’s what we did there.” 

After the event Chastain and Hamlin admitted they each made a mistake with two laps remaining.

“I carried too much speed into turns here and four and slid up in front of him,” said Hamlin, who finished fifth. “He (Chastain) was keeping his line. I didn’t get the car slowed up enough.”

Chastain, who clinched a playoff position on points with his second-place finish, described the race as “crazy” and “awesome”, but then talked about his mistake.

“I didn’t make my crossover aggressive enough,” Chastain said. “I got tight initially into (turn) three when we hit and then I got loose trying to turn underneath him. At that point, it was too late. I should have made that crossover a couple of car lengths sooner and I didn’t. 

“Denny was faster. We all knew it. I was just trying everything I could to put my car everywhere where he wanted his to be and not crash. We kind of didn’t almost crash, but then we did.”    

  Jones’ ability to capitalize on the two frontrunners’ mistakes provided him with an “amazing experience.”

“I never thought we would be beating Denny Hamlin at Darlington,” Jones said. “We just executed this race really well and I think that’s what paid off for us.”

Jones’ cites his ability to capitalize on opportunities at the end of races not only to experience, but learning how to study the races and take really good notes. 

“I know that sounds kind of easy and self-explanatory, but I feel like we’ve done a really good job this year of building a good notebook. We came here earlier this year after the lockdown; didn’t have a great race, but we had speed at the end of the day. It never showed.

“We went back and watched a bunch of film. We have SMT now, so we can see exactly where we were getting beat, where we were doing good. That’s what we’ve been doing at every race track, so that’s maybe why you’ve seen a little more consistency out of us. The consistency makes us a lot more strong.”

The Xfinity Series ends its regular season next weekend at Bristol, Tenn.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 5 2020
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