By AMANDA VINCENT
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch may have dominated the Drive for Safety 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Saturday, but in the end, Erik Jones was the driver celebrating in victory lane, taking in the pomp and circumstance of his series-leading fourth win of the season. With the win, Jones will head into the first-ever Xfinity Series chase next weekend at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta with momentum and the points lead.
“It’s a lot of momentum,” Jones said. “I wish this was our first round right here. We’ll go into Kentucky, definitely, with a full head of steam and are due for another win there.”
After leading just over three-quarters of the 200-lap race with a tally of 154 laps led, Busch suffered a right-rear tire issue, resulting in a spin with just under 20 laps remaining. He managed to remain on the lead lap, but finished outside the top-10 in 13th.
Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard stayed out during the eighth and final caution of the race that came as a result of Busch’s tire issue. Meanwhile, Justin Allgaier, Jones and Kyle Larson headed for pit road.
“I knew we were in a good spot on tires, but we were pretty far back; think we restarted sixth, there,” Jones said. “I didn’t know if the 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.”
When the race restarted, Sadler was the first on new tires to overtake the three cars that stayed out, but Jones also soon got by and then, passed Sadler for the lead. Larson quickly took second and challenged Jones for the top spot and the win in the closing laps. The battle got intense, and Larson got into the wall on the final lap but managed to maintain second.
“I thought we were just going to be on the bottom the rest of the race,” Jones said. “I thought it would take a little bit longer for the top to come back in, but I guess the sun baking the track all day, the bottom was worn out and I thought we were making a lot of speed in hour Hisense Camry, but it was just a matter of time before Kyle was going to get there, and we tried to stay on the bottom as long as we could and minimize the risk of air on top. Finally, I saw him coming and we moved up top. I saw we still had the good speed up there and if I didn’t hit the wall, he wouldn’t be able to get us.”
Behind second-place Larson, Sadler finished third. Daniel Suarez and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top-five. Finishing sixth through 10th were Bowyer, Joey Logano, Brendan Gaughan Menard and Brandon Jones.
Entering the race, 10 of the 12 chase slots were already clinched, leaving two berths remaining. Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg were in the final two provisional spots. They were able to maintain those positions to become official chasers at the checkered flag, Sieg with a 12th-place finish and Koch by finishing 15th.
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