DARLINGTON, S.C. — Brandon Jones swept past leaders Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin two laps from the end to take the Xfinity Series event at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.
Jones looked like he’d simply be a spectator to the up-front battle over the final 20 laps between Chastain and Hamlin, who had moved up from starting last to contend for the victory.
Hamlin had cleared Chastain two laps from the end when Chastain bumped him from behind, opening things up for Jones to slide in front.
That was all Jones needed for the win, his third of the season and fourth of his career.
“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 post-season 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.