By Ken de la Bastide CNHI News Service
The Herald Bulletin
---- — WINCHESTER – Michigan driver Erik Jones continued his storybook season by winning the 42nd running of the Winchester 400 Sunday in a race that will be remembered as a classic.
Jones took the lead following the final round of pit stops on Lap 352 and then held off Chase Elliott over the final 34 circuits to win by a half-second.
Last year Jones won the Snowball Derby, beating Kyle Busch, whose team he now drives for.
Augie Grill climbed through the field to take the lead from Johnny VanDoorn on Lap 334 with an inside pass entering Turn 3 and it appeared the Alabama driver had the race in hand when the 10th and final caution flag waved when Scott Neal spun in Turn 4.
With all the leaders stopping for tires, Jones was the first off pit road followed by Elliott, Austin Theriault and VanDoorn. Grill came out in the eighth spot after the crew had a problem changing the right rear tire.
Following the restart VanDoorn, looking to capture the JEGS $100,000 bonus for winning the Rowdy 251 at Berlin Raceway and the Redbud 300 at Anderson Speedway, moved into the second spot with 35 laps remaining.
But from there he battled an ill-handling race car and finished eighth, one lap down.
Following Jones and Elliott to the checkers were Mason Mingus, Grill and Daniel Hemric.
“This is an amazing day,” Jones said. “Normally this is a survival race, but this time we kept on our strategy. I knew that with the next set of tires we would be able to get back into contention.”
The race was slowed only 10 times for a total of 85 laps by caution periods, with several long stretches of green flag racing.
“The cautions fell our way,” Jones said. “I think my car was a little better on the long runs.”
The victory came in only Jones’ second Winchester 400 appearance.
Elliott said the team had excellent pit stops throughout the day but it didn’t work out for a second win in the Winchester 400. Elliott captured the victory in 2010.
“I’ve had some good runs at Winchester,” he said, “but never got a win. It’s nice to get the monkey off my back.”
VanDoorn and Grill dominated most of the first 200 laps with the two drivers combining to lead 165 of the opening circuits as they swapped the lead four times.
Last year’s Winchester 400 winner Ross Kenseth was eliminated in a multi-car crash on lap L51 on the back straight which also involved Elliott, Donnie Wilson and Martin Latulippe.
“I had a left rear going down,” Elliott said of the incident. “I don’t know who I made contact with, but I was lucky to be able to continue.”
Seven of the 37 cars that started finished on the lead lap and there were 21 drivers who completed at least 390 laps. There were 14 lead changes among six different drivers.