Erik Jones’ victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway broke up a bit of the monopoly and monotony of the 2018 Monster Series NASCAR Cup season.
But along comes Jones at Daytona. The newcomer to Joe Gibbs racing, and Busch’s teammate, won the first Cup race of his career in his 57th start.
Now, a quick point. The race was indeed a wreck fest and there is the opinion that Jones would not have won if some other drivers – including Busch and Harvick – had not been crippled or sidelined in a couple of major incidents.
Admittedly, that is a logical assumption. But Jones’ victory is not tainted in any way. He was a survivor who put himself in contention for victory.
As the old racing adage goes, “To finish first, first you must finish.”
Another quick point: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was involved in several melees and created two of them, was not a very popular man in the garage area.
The situation was so intense that Stenhouse Jr., who was a target for ridicule and disdain if we go by social media, received a protective escort out of the track.
Stenhouse Jr. admitted he was the cause of a couple of incidents. But he did not admit guilt to anything. He said it was the unfortunate result of hard racing.
Fair enough. But it’s not likely his popularity is going to rise very soon. As one wag posted, “Stenhouse, table for one!”
Back to Jones: The driver acted like an exuberant kid after his victory. And why not? After all, it was his first career win and he IS an exuberant kid.
Jones was 22 years, one month and seven days old when he won at Daytona. Having such a young winner in a Cup race is not a new thing, but it is rare.
There were very few drivers who won a race before they were 24 years old during the 1950s and 60s, NASCAR’s pioneer days.
But interestingly, two of them went on to enjoy spectacular careers that led to their enshrinement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Junior Johnson was 23 years old when he won his first career race at Hickory in 1950.
Richard Petty was 22 years and seven months old when he won at the Charlotte Fairgrounds in 1960.
The popular Glen “Fireball” Roberts was just 21 when he won his first race in 1950 at Hillsboro. N.C.
Terry Labonte of Corpus Christi, Tex., was 23 years, nine months old when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 1980.
I covered that race and just like all the other members of the media, I knew nothing about Labonte. He was a very quiet sort.
But so was the press box when Labonte zipped past David Pearson to win the race. I mean, it was deathly quiet. Everyone was stunned.
Finally a voice rang out, “Boys I think Terry Labonte just won the race.”
He would win a lot more along with two championships.
Bobby Hillin Jr. was a surprise first-time winner at 22 years of age when he won at Talladega in 1986.
That Gordon won his first race in Charlotte at age 22 years, nine months surprised no one.
In the 21st century NASCAR has seen a sizable handful of drivers who have won their first race at a tender young age. This comes a no surprise, really, given the increased number of youngsters who have received competitive rides.
Brian Vickers was 22 when he won at Talladega in 2006. Kurt Busch was only a year older when he won at Bristol in 2002 as was Ryan Blaney when he won at Pocono in 2017 and Chris Buescher when he took the checkered flag, again at Pocono, in 2016.
In 2016 Kyle Larson won at Michigan at age 24.
The youngest winner of them all is Joey Logano, whose first career win came at New Hampshire at age 19 in 2009.
It’s nine years later and Logano is now 28 years old. He still looks 19.
Now, Jones joins the ranks of NASCAR’s youngest winners.
I think he is in pretty darn good company.
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