Erik Jones, the driver of the No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet, pulled off a stunning upset by winning the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night. Jones, who had not won a race since 2019, snapped a 109-race winless streak and gave the iconic No. 43 its first victory since 2014.
Jones, who started 20th, ran in the top 10 for most of the night and when the caution flew for Cody Ware’s third adventure of the race, Jones’ team put him in exactly the right position. He came off pit road second and inherited the lead when Kyle Busch’s engine expired under yellow. Jones then had to hold off Denny Hamlin, the winningest active driver at Darlington, for the final 40 laps.
Despite some close calls with lapped traffic, Jones crossed the finish line in first and shocked the NASCAR world with his third career Cup victory. He also became the first non-playoff driver to win a playoff race since Matt Kenseth in 2017.
“I get a hat. [Richard Petty] told me I get a hat if I win,” Jones said. “But Richard hasn’t been to victory lane at Darlington probably since he last won here.”
Legacy Motor Club Celebrates First Win Since Merger
Legacy Motor Club, the team formed by the merger of Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing, celebrated its first win since its inception in 2023. The team, which is co-owned by seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, had shown some improvements and impressive runs throughout the season, but had not been able to break through to victory lane until Darlington.
The win was especially meaningful for Richard Petty, the legendary owner and driver of the No. 43, who had not seen his car win a race since Aric Almirola’s rain-shortened victory at Daytona in 2014. Petty, who was not at the track due to COVID-19 protocols, congratulated Jones and his team via phone call.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Petty said. “I’m so proud of Erik and everyone at Legacy Motor Club for working hard and never giving up. This is a special win for us and I hope we can build on this momentum.”
Playoff Drivers Struggle with Mechanical Issues at Darlington
While Jones celebrated his unexpected win, several playoff drivers had a rough night at Darlington due to mechanical issues. Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 248 laps and won both stages, suffered a power steering failure and overheated on lap 286, ending his dominant run and relegating him to a 29th-place finish.
Kyle Busch, who inherited the lead from Truex, also had his engine blow up under caution on lap 299, knocking him out of the race and leaving him with a 35th-place result. Busch’s misfortune also handed the lead to Jones, who never relinquished it.
Other playoff drivers who had problems included Kevin Harvick, who had his car catch fire on lap 277; Chase Elliott, who had a loose wheel on lap 317; and Alex Bowman, who had a flat tire on lap 325. All of them finished outside the top 20 and lost valuable points in their quest to advance to the next round of the playoffs.