DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Brandon Jones played it out in his mind over and over as he drove behind leaders Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain. When the moment arrived, Jones was ready to pounce.
Jones swept past leaders Chastain and Hamlin two laps from the end to win the Xfinity Series event at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.
Jones was ready when Hamlin passed Chastain in turn four on the next-to-last lap, both leaders losing momentum as they tried to handle Darlington's tricky curve.
“I knew it was going to come and I was ready,” said Jones, who stayed out in front for his third win this season and fourth of his career.
For Jones, it was a lot like his win in Kansas when he sat seventh on the second overtime restart and passed Austin Cindric for the victory.
Jones knew Hamlin and Chastain would struggle to regain their speed after Chastain bumped the NASCAR Cup Series racer. He told himself to drive low, find the clear air and stay focused on the finish line.
It happened just the way he thought.
“You saw them really racing hard and I knew I was catching them,” Jones said.
It sure didn't look that way as Hamlin kept charging from behind in seeking his sixth career Xfinity win at Darlington.
Hamlin quickly moved behind Chastain after a final restart with 21 laps left. The NASCAR Cup Series driver stalked Chastain much of the way, several times pulling alongside before falling back to second.
Hamlin finally grabbed the lead with two laps left. Chastain wasn't done, bumping Hamlin from behind to cause both to lose momentum — enough for Jones to push on past for the victory.
Jones said he only thought about getting a better exit out of the turn than his competitors.
“I did it at Kansas when I won, and that's what came to mind," Jones said. “I knew I need to back the entry up whenever they were racing really hard, and that was my only option, to try to get a better exit than them.”
Chastain held on for second, Ryan Sieg was third, Riley Herbst fourth and Hamlin fifth.
It was the second straight year Hamlin had a hard-luck Xfinity finish at Darlington. He was disqualified in 2019 after crossing the line first when his car was found to be out of regulation.
This time, Hamlin said he had no choice but to make a move with laps running out.
“I saw an opportunity there to clear, but once I did I carried a little too much speed into three,” he said. “The 19 (Jones) was able to catch up with both of us battling like that. It was fun, it just didn't work out.”
Hamlin has bigger goals ahead as he starts second on the Cup Series playoff grid at the Southern 500 on Sunday night.
Chastain was disappointed he came up short of the win. He took hope in racing tight with an accomplished competitor like Hamlin, who won the race's first two stages.
“Yeah, it's another heartbreak, but we finished second with a torn-up race car,” he said.
Chastain's finish locked him into the Xfinity playoffs. The series has three races remaining — two next weekend at Richmond — before its postseason starts.
Chase Briscoe led the most laps (55) and was in front when he slid on some liquid on the track to create the final restart.
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