This year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington took on the look of NASCAR in the 1970s with vintage paint schemes and uniforms as the story of the day until Carl Edwards turned Darlington into Carlington, whipping the field on his way to his first victory at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway and 25th of his career.
Edwards took the lead on pit road after the last caution flag in his Arris Toyota when his Joe Gibbs Racing team conducted a lightning fast pit stop, getting him out front of then leader and pole winner, Brad Keselowski, with 11 laps to go. He held off the field on the restart and set sail winning his second Sprint Cup event of the season by 0.092 over Keselowski at the Lady in Black additionally winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May.
NASCAR implemented the low-downforce package for Darlington, putting the steering wheel back into the hands of the drivers and at Darlington that meant saving your tires, staying off the wall and keeping your car in the tight groove. Most drivers said they preferred this setup and wish NASCAR would keep it for the Chase, but won’t.
“I don’t think I can get in trouble for how much I liked it, but I loved it – this is as good as it gets,” said a beaming Edwards. “This is what it’s about. We’re sliding cars, tires are falling off – this is the style of racing [that you want] – if there’s any chance we can run this in the Chase, I hope we can do it. It was an awesome day.”
Edwards’ chances were lowered when he lost two laps early in the race after staying on the track when the rest of the field pitted on lap 62. When he did hit pit road on lap 89, he was locked down when a caution came out taking him nearly 200 laps to regain his proper place in the rundown.
Denny Hamlin came home third, followed by Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. It was a late duel with Keselowski and Harvick during a 43-lap green-flag run preceding the final caution that gave Edwards a lasting Darlington memory.
“A win like this is really special, especially leading into the Chase,” Edwards said. “This is what we needed. We just needed a shot in the arm and needed to have a good night like this. All over, it’s cool.
“I hope I never forget those last 25 laps. That was really fun, and the restart was fun, but truly racing with Brad and Kevin was a blast. I really had a good time.”
With his seventh place finish at Darlington, Kyle Busch locked in his rightful place in the Chase being in the top 30 in driver in points after returning from his Daytona injuries.
Other drivers with NASCAR ‘Chase Bubble Troubles’ are Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, and Kyle Larson in the 17 – 20 spots, while Jamie McMurry, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer hold down the 12 – 16 with Richmond setting the Chase field.
It turned out to be NASCAR’s longest race so far of the 2015 season, taking 4 hours, 28 minutes, 35 seconds to complete the 500 miles. It had a Southern 500 record number of caution flags at 18 for 89 laps slowing the pace to just 111.993 mph. There were 24 lead changes among 11 drivers.
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup regular season concludes next weekend at the Richmond International Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday night, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.