By AMANDA VINCENT
NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, went back in time Sunday night to celebrate the return of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 to its traditional Labor Day weekend date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Most race teams got in on the “old-school” act, so much so that Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted recently that not running a retro paint scheme in this year’s Southern 500 would be like going to a Halloween party without a costume.
Carl Edwards was among the few not running a special paint scheme Sunday at Darlington, but that didn’t keep him from getting to victory lane to celebrate his second win of the 2015 season. Going two laps down couldn’t even keep Edwards from his ceremonial victory backflip and a victory lane celebration.
“Our guys never quit,” Edwards said. “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.”
Edwards was also complimentary of the low-downforce aero package that was utilized first at Kentucky Speedway in July and then again Sunday night 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,” Edwards said. “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.”
Because of miscommunication, Edwards stayed out during a caution on lap 61 and wound up having to pit under green on lap 90. But Edwards was back up toward the front and was able to get off pit road first during the final caution of the race, a record-breaking 18th caution, to restart with the lead with eight laps to go. While Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin battled back and forth for second in the closing laps, Edwards maintained his lead the rest of the way.
“We call Darian Kenny Rogers, because he’s a gambler and someone actually put a Kenny Rogers poster up in the hauler,” Edwaerds said. “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.”
Keselowski finished second after leading a race-high 196 laps, while Hamlin finished third. Joey Logano was fourth, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five.
“I needed to be a little bit better everywhere,” Keselowski said. “Needed to be better on the restarts and a little better, probably because I brushed the wall a little bet here. I just needed to be a little bit better everywhere to have a shot at the win.”
Keselowski dominated the first half of the race after starting on the pole. He lost the lead when Edwards and Kasey Kahne stayed out during the third yellow flag of the race. When Edwards and Kahne drifted back on older tires, Hamlin took over the lead and spent time up front.
Keselowski got back up front on lap 118 and led most of the laps until losing the lead to Kurt Busch on a restart following a lap 198 caution.
Tony Stewart led a handful of laps after staying out during a lap 207 caution. Hamlin and Harvick, on newer tires, raced back toward the front, with Hamlin taking the lead on lap 222 and Harvick taking second a few laps later.
Hamlin had a slow stop, though, during a caution on lap 229 and, as a result, dropped back to sixth while Harvick and Logano restarted on the front row. Both Harvick and Logano led laps before Keselowski got back to the front by getting off pit road first during a caution on lap 301.
Keselowski was able to maintain his lead while Harvick and Edwards battled for first and second until the final caution of the race.
Kurt Busch finished sixth, Kyle Busch was seventh, Dale Earnhardt Jr. eighth, Martin Truex Jr. ninth, and Kyle Larson was 10th.
Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner