NASCAR’s wild regular season rolls over into playoffs

Erik Jones competes in the NASCAR Southern 500 auto race Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in Darlington, S.C. Jones held on to the victory after taking the lead from Kyle Busch, who blew a motor with 30 laps remaining in the race. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Buckle up your five-point harness. Looks like NASCAR's playoffs will be just as wild and unpredictable as its regular season.

That came into sharp focus at Darlington Raceway where Erik Jones became the first-ever non-playoff racer to take the postseason opener in the Southern 500 on Sunday night — one week after the cutoff for playoff qualifying.

Jones' crew chief, Dave Elenz, was gratified his team finally broke through at one of the most difficult tracks in NASCAR. “But I think the first thing Erik said to me is, ‘Don’t you wish we won Daytona'” in the regular-season finale, Elenz said.

At the end, Jones outlasted all three of his old Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Truex lost a late lead with power steering problems, Busch's engine blew up with Jones in second.