Carl Edwards survived a caution-filled night to capture his first career victory at Darlington Raceway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started 13th and struggled the first half of the race. A flat tire derailed his rhythm and put him two laps down. Fast pit stops and strong strategic decisions allowed him to gain one of his laps back. He returned to the lead lap after grabbing the free pass. After that, Edwards and his No. 19 crew put their nose to the grindstone to stay in contention.
Edwards fought against Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin within the last 50 laps to secure the monumental victory. The battles produced tight racing and bounds of excitement. In the end, the final pit stop gave the Columbia, Missouri native an advantage, placing him first with eight laps to go. He took off, and the rest is—figuratively and literally—history.
“I feel like my team needs to be sitting up here with me,” Edwards said in the post-win press conference, adding, “They won this race for me tonight.”
The driver—who was a big advocate in the race’s low-downforce rules package—praised the end-result of the event. He stated he wants other drivers to see the enthusiastic racing he saw and push for the same rules to appear in 2016.
“I hope I never forget those last 25 laps. It was really fun,” he said with a laugh.
The weight of the win isn’t lost on the organization, either. Team owner Joe Gibbs said, “I don’t think you could draw up a bigger win for us.”
This is Edwards’ 25th victory in 398 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts and his second in 2015. It also marked Toyota’s 75th Sprint Cup win.
The Bojangles’ Southern 500’s return to Labor Day weekend was built up to the extreme, complete with a throwback motif. Teams and sponsors arranged paint schemes honoring some of the sport’s pioneers. NASCAR on NBC enlisted legends Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, and Dale Jarrett to call a portion of Sunday night’s broadcast. Drivers wore vintage-style firesuits. The flashback idea wasn’t the only thing that made the crown jewel race worth watching; the use of the rules package and new tires added another element of unpredictability.
That element of the unknown led to eighteen cautions for a total of 89 laps, a race record. The increase in yellow flags led to another issue—lack of tires. Teams were given 12 sets of tires for the race, and it quickly became apparent that wouldn’t be enough. However, NASCAR refused to offer teams extra sets. Tire management was now the name of the game, and many didn’t play it well. That led to more cautions, making the event longer. The Southern 500 ended right before midnight on the East Coast, four hours and 28 minutes after the green flag.
Although the race was long, it was also full of entertainment and historic markers. The Southern 500’s return to Labor Day lived up to the hype and brought a first-time winner along with it.