Carl Edwards rallies for dramatic win in Darlington

Race winner Carl Edwards
Race winner Carl Edwards
Mike Mercurio/AR1.com

Carl Edwards scored his first-career Darlington raceway victory with a win in Sunday night's Bojangles Southern 500 in the return of the traditional Labor Day classic.

Edwards fought his way back to the lead after falling two laps down early in the race and took over the top spot for the final time following a round of pit stops with eight laps to go, holding off Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski to the finish for second victory of the season.

Keselowski finished second, followed by Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

Edwards climbed two spots in the points standings to 12th, but more importantly moved into a tie for third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings.

"I feel like my pit crew ought to be sitting up here doing interviews. They won that race for us," said Edwards. "It was just amazing to come down third and to go out leading the race. Nobody gave up tonight. We were two laps down. We fought back hard. It's a huge win for us. Southern 500, it's obviously one of the most sought-after wins in the world of motorsports."

The race marked the return of the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend after a 12-year absence. NASCAR took the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with throwback paint schemes, retro crew uniforms, and reunions of championship-winning drivers and crews from races past.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Sunday's night's race also featured the return of the new "low downforce" aerodynamic package that NASCAR first used at Kentucky back in July. NASCAR had hoped the aero changes, coupled with a new tire compound made specifically for this event, would lead to more tire wear, harder to handle cars and more passing.

What they got was exactly what they were hoping for.

With the cars running on the ragged edge lap after lap, there was plenty of passing, including 24 lead changes – but Darlington's notorious abrasive racing surface led most teams to adopt a feast or famine pit strategy, with many of the top competitors opting to pit for tires at every opportunity.

And they had plenty of opportunities – with a track-record 18 cautions flags waving during the event. As a result, some teams had already cycled through all 12 of their allotted sets of tires before the final caution flag on lap 356.

Edwards was one of the first drivers to fall victim to the new softer tire after missing out on an early pit opportunity on lap 61. Edwards' tires quickly gave out, forcing him to lose track position while pitting under green, eventually going two laps down following a speeding penalty on pit road.

Edwards and his crew rallied, taking a wave around on lap 168 and picking up a free pass on lap 208 to get back on the lead lap.

Up front, Keselowski had the car to beat, starting from the pole position and leading a race-high 196 laps in a throwback Miller paint scheme honoring Bobby Allison's 1983 race-winning car.

For much of the second half of the race, Keselowski squared off for the lead against Harvick, Hamlin and his teammate Logano before beating the field off pit road following a caution flag with 55 laps to go.

Keselowski would lead the next 41 laps while fending off challenges from Harvick while Edwards climbed his way up from fifth place.

With 34 laps to go, Edwards pulled a slide job on Harvick to take second and started closing on Keselowski, but the tires continued to fall off and Edwards fell back to third behind Harvick.

Jeb Burton's spin on lap 356 brought out the caution for the final time and opened the door for Edwards, who beat Hamlin and Keselowski off pit road to reclaim the top spot.

On the restart, Hamlin looked to the inside for the lead but settled into second ahead of Keselowski as Edwards pulled away, opening up a half-straight lead to the finish.

Keselowski would edge out Hamlin for the second spot to post his career-best Darlington finish. He was among many drivers who had high praise for the new aero package NASCAR brought to Darlington.

"I remember when I was a kid and my dad wanted to teach me how to drive a car, and he gave me a stick shift," said Keselowski. "You practice and you learn and you learn how to drive it and you stall it out all the time and then eventually you kind of start to figure it out and you stop stalling it so much and you get into a pattern and you don't stall it out anymore. The race reminded me a lot of that because the cars, just five or six years ago when I entered Sprint Cup, were extremely difficult to drive, much like a stick shift when you're first learning how to drive.

"So we asked NASCAR to, make these cars harder to drive, give us our, metaphorically speaking, stick shift back, and they did. It's kind of that same feeling. Kind of metaphorically speaking I think there was a lot of people that stalled it out today."

Edwards, too, felt the changes were a step in the right direction for NASCAR.

"I loved it – this is as good as it gets," said Edwards. "I hope they really keep going this direction. If we keep going this direction and taking the downforce away and taking aero influence away, you're going to have to step up your game as a driver. You really have to. You've got to dig deep. You've got to manage the tires. You've got to work better with your crew chief. It really makes it a lot of fun. That's the stuff that to me that stock car racing is about. That's what NASCAR is about, and I truly applaud NASCAR for running this package and trying this and doing it, and hopefully they like it as much as we do."

Kurt Busch finished sixth just ahead of his brother Kyle, who clinched a spot in the top-30 in points to earn a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson finished out the top 10.

CARL EDWARDS, No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 1st

How were you able to recover and win at Darlington?

"Our guys never quit. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is unbelievable. These guys have been working so hard. I cannot thank ARRIS enough and I know a lot of fans came down to enjoy this race. It's the 75th Cup win for Toyota — Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development) — everyone has been so amazing. We started this team and they all believed in us — Stanley, Subway, Comcast Business, XFINITY, all the fans and Sprint. Jeff Burton — the first time I came here we sat and watched tape at Jack Roush's office at his shop and I just can't thank everyone enough that helped me. Darian (Grubb, crew chief) did a great job."

How much fun did you have with this aero package at Darlington?

"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. All the Sport Clips folks were there too off of turn two. This is what it's about. We're sliding cars, tires are falling off — this is the style of racing — if there's any chance we can run this in the Chase, I hope we can do it. It was an awesome day. Thank you Joe Gibbs (team owner), thank you very much."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]What do you think of your team renaming the Darlington to ‘Carlington'?

"They made it ‘Carlington' for a couple of moments, but this is the Southern 500. This is just huge."

How were you able to recover and win the race?

"We call Darian (Grubb, crew chief) Kenny Rogers because he's a gambler and someone actually put a Kenny Rogers poster up in the hauler. He's not scared to try things and make it happen and everybody just did a great job tonight. My pit crew was amazing. I mean, these guys — they're unreal. They won the race for us and just so proud to be driving this car with these people."

How does it feel to win the Southern 500?

"I don't know how to describe it. Just anybody out there that's worked on something, that's working on their dream or something that they want to do — just never quit, never give up and keep digging. That's all it takes is just persistence. I'm just so fortunate. I just feel like I'm blessed and just so many things have gone my way and I'm just very, very grateful."

How were the races closing segments?

"That was a lot of fun racing with Brad (Keselowski) and Kevin (Harvick). I mean, that's as good as it gets. We were pushing each other as hard as we could without bumping into each other, blocking each other just enough that the other guys would put up with it and that was really fun racing. This is what NASCAR is about. We've got this lower downforce package, we can race close, the Goodyear tires fall off and it gets hard to drive. This is fun."

What was the last restart like?

"I was spinning the tires pretty badly. I think Brad (Keselowski) was spinning the tires. Denny (Hamlin) is the only one that got a really good restart and three wide and I just kept my foot in it. I mean, it's for the Southern 500 and fortunately we all made it through there, but I didn't look in the mirror once. I just stayed in it and kept going.

Results

Pos. No. Driver Make Start Laps Led Status
1 19 Carl Edwards Toyota 13 367 15 Running
2 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 1 367 196 Running
3 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 6 367 57 Running
4 22 Joey Logano Ford 4 367 29 Running
5 4 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 3 367 44 Running
6 41 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 2 367 7 Running
7 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 10 367 3 Running
8 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 26 367 0 Running
9 78 Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 7 367 0 Running
10 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 16 367 3 Running
11 43 Aric Almirola Ford 11 367 0 Running
12 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 15 367 2 Running
13 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 23 367 0 Running
14 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 20 367 0 Running
15 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 17 367 10 Running
16 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 5 367 0 Running
17 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 28 367 0 Running
18 16 Greg Biffle Ford 24 367 0 Running
19 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 19 367 0 Running
20 40 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 31 367 0 Running
21 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 14 367 0 Running
22 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 29 367 0 Running
23 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet 34 367 0 Running
24 7 Alex Bowman Chevrolet 35 367 0 Running
25 83 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota 25 367 0 Running
26 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 12 367 0 Running
27 38 David Gilliland Ford 38 367 1 Running
28 9 Sam Hornish Jr Ford 33 367 0 Running
29 13 Casey Mears Chevrolet 32 366 0 Running
30 21 Ryan Blaney Ford 9 366 0 Running
31 23 Jeb Burton Toyota 41 364 0 Running
32 33 Mike Bliss Chevrolet 42 363 0 Running
33 51 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet 27 354 0 Running
34 26 J.J. Yeley Toyota 36 348 0 Running
35 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 18 342 0 Running
36 34 Brett Moffitt Ford 40 332 0 Running
37 98 T.J. Bell Ford 43 325 0 Running
38 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford 8 313 0 Running
39 46 Michael Annett Chevrolet 39 300 0 Running
40 55 David Ragan Toyota 21 275 0 Accident
41 25 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 22 227 0 Accident
42 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 30 190 0 Accident
43 35 Cole Whitt Ford 37 5 0 Accident

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