First win by Jones gives NASCAR a needed bump

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Erik Jones created so much smoke during his burnout that he had trouble breathing afterward.

His first career Cup victory Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway was a needed breath of fresh air in a sport that has failed to see a supposed bumper crop of young talent emerge as bona fide stars.

The 22-year-old Jones had his motorcoach wrapped in toilet paper as a prank and awoke to a steady string of congratulatory tweets ranging from Kyle Busch to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The feel-good, first-time win gave the sport a vital bump as it capped the official first half of the season.

The question lingers: Is this a sign that perhaps the so-called “Young Guns” are poised to break through over the final 18 races, or was this just an aberration as Jones became the latest benefactor to survive the wild wrecks that litter Daytona?

When the smoke finally cleared around Jones’ No. 20 Toyota, this much was still clear — Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. remained the only three drivers in the rarefied air of legitimate championship contenders.

“How many more wins can they get, playoff points can they get?” asked Earnhardt, now an NBC broadcaster. “Will anybody get in there and join the conversation?”

Led by five wins each from Busch and Harvick, the trio have combined for 13 wins over the first 18 points races.

All three have been the class of the field.

All three are former Cup champions.

Can any driver stop one from The Big 3 to ultimately claim the crown?

Asked if Jones’ victory was a momentum-builder for the next generation, third-place finisher A.J. Allmendinger cracked, “One of those three are going to win next week, so I don’t know.”

Jones, who joined Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon as winners at the track this season who only led the final lap, certain has the talent and team to become a consistent winner. Joe Gibbs Racing thought so highly of his talent that it gave 2004 Cup champ Matt Kenseth the boot to make room for Jones.

“Regardless of who I’m replacing or where I’m driving, you want to win races, and you want to be a winner,” Jones said.

Hinchcliffe wins at Iowa

Canadian James Hinchcliffe passed Josef Newgarden with just over 40 laps left to win the IndyCar race at the Iowa Speedway on Sunday, his first victory of the season.

Hinchcliffe, a series veteran who failed to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500, picked up his first win since Long Beach in 2017 and his second win at Iowa.

Vettel wins British Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel took advantage of a bad start and disastrous first lap for Lewis Hamilton to win the British Grand Prix and extend his lead in the championship standings on Sunday.

Hamilton started in pole position but Vettel streaked ahead and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen compounded Hamilton’s misfortune when he bumped into him.