History in Darlington as Erik Jones crashes the playoff party with his second #Southern500 triumph (AUDIO)

It had been a long wait for the #43 to return to “Victory Lane” at Darlington (Getty Images)

The #43 is synonymous with excellence in racing. Of course, that’s the number Richard Petty made famous during his “Hall of Fame” career. On Sunday, the #43 found its way back to the hallowed grounds of victory lane at Darlington Raceway after an extremely long wait.

Erik Jones, driver for Petty GMS Motorsports, scored win #200 for the 43, fifty-five years to the day since Petty last took the checkered flag in Darlington (September 4, 1967). The victory is Jones’ third triumph in the NASCAR Cup Series and his second in one of the sport’s crown jewel events. The underdog story loomed larger as Jones spoiled the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs opener, preventing any of the 16 postseason contenders from securing their spot into the Round of 12.

Race fans flocked to the “Lady in Black” for the opening race of the NASCAR Playoffs (Getty Images)

On a night in which many of the playoff contenders left the race early, including regular season champion Chase Elliott, Jones inherited the lead after two Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas suffered engine failures. Martin Truex Jr. was leading in the closing 40 laps when he developed an overheating issue with his motor. That brought the No. 19 Toyota to pit road and relinquished the lead back to Kyle Busch ahead of the race’s final yellow flag. Under that caution period, Busch’s motor failed while he was leading the field behind the pace car. With smoke billowing from underneath the car, many in the sold-out Darlington grandstands stood and cheered the end of the night for NASCAR’s most polarizing figure.

Kyle Busch’s night went up in smoke, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd (Getty Images)

But to spoil the playoff party, Jones had to hold off the third of his former JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin, over the final 20 laps, which he did. Tyler Reddick was third, with pole sitter Joey Logano finishing fourth. Christopher Bell rounded out the “Top 5”.

Elliott, who entered the playoffs with a 15-point edge over second place, finished last after he lost control of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on lap 113. Elliott’s car sailed into the outside wall in Turn 3 and then was hit by Chase Briscoe. His team tried to complete repairs under the right rear of the car but ran out of time as the Damaged Vehicle Policy ended the night for the regular season champion.

By night’s end, Elliott was far from alone in the ugliness. Seven of the other 15 playoff drivers had problems, including former champion Kevin Harvick, who left the race after his car erupted in flames, leading him to angrily criticize NASCAR.

The series moves to Kansas next Sunday for the second race of the playoffs.

Final Race Results

Erik Jones and the #43 Team — Postrace Press Conference

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