Race Capsule: Edwards catches the magic in closing laps of Southern 500 at "Carlington
Flag to Flag: The theme was a throwback one all weekend for the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway that was properly run the Sunday before Labor Day for the first time since 2003. The sport celebrated this once decades-long tradition with a parade of throwback race schemes, TV graphics, Hall of Famer appearances, and even Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett's return to the TV broadcast booth for a half hour. It was glorious.
But the biggest retro
Others were not so lucky, as 18 caution flags did slow the race to a sometimes agonizing pace, but also allowed drivers, like eventual race winner Carl Edwards, to drive back from early mistakes. The number of yellow
Edwards and crew chief gambled early in the race and gained track position by not taking tires on one caution. Kasey Kahne (12th) and his crew chief Keith Rodden made the same gamble on that same yellow period. Both dropped like rocks through the field, had to pit for tires under green, and fell two laps down as a caution came out soon after.
As Keselowski constantly won the races off pit road, he lost the lead when others chose not to pit mainly. The No. 2 Miller High Life Ford, running a paint scheme similar to Bobby Allison's in 1983, by far led the most laps. The
18 of the 43 cars in the field were involved in some part in at least one caution. Youngsters Chase Elliott (41st), Brett Moffitt (36th), and Cole Whitt (43rd) wrecked first on lap 7, ending Whitt's night. Several more simply lost the handles of their cars and spun or hit the wall on their own, including Danica Patrick (42nd), Ryan Newman (13th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (38th), rookie Jeb Burton (31st), Michael Annett (39th), Trevor Bayne (35th), Jimmie Johnson (19th), Elliott, David Ragan (40th), Mike Bliss (32nd), Kurt Busch (6th), and J.J. Yeley (34th). Rookie Ryan Blaney (30th) got a Darlington stripe before the halfway point in the race and pitted under green, losing three laps. So did Matt Kenseth (21st) very early in the race, though the cautions allowed him to finally drive back on the lead lap.
It was a hard, hot night that saw tons of passing. And those passes were daring moves of treachery with the drivers barely keeping off of each other and out of the wall. The race boiled down to a tense and changing battle for the lead in the last 30 laps. Kevin Harvick (5th) had caught Keselowski and tried to grab the lead. But Keselowski would
When Burton spun to bring out the final yellow flag with 11 laps to go, all the leaders pitted. Keselowski and No. 2 crew's invincibility on pit road
Fittingly, the biggest proponent of NASCAR's experiment with low-downforce cars won the race. Edwards and his crew might as well have won the Daytona 500 the way they celebrated. In Edwards' excitement, he did his customary post-win
The top 10 were Edwards, Keselowski, Hamlin, Logano, Harvick, Kurt Busch (spun with 69 laps to go and rallied back), Kyle Busch (never ran near the front, but got faster in closing laps), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ran mid-pack most of the race, but gained spots near the end, leading Hendrick Motorsports), Martin Truex Jr. (had a top 5 car all night, but lost spots in the final laps), and Kyle Larson (ran around 8th-10th all race, at a track that obviously suits his style).
The Chase standings are crystallizing now, with only one race to go on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway. Ky. Busch and his four wins have now clinched a spot in the top 30, so he will make the playoffs. The winless drivers in the standings are also in good shape. Jamie McMurray (+73 over 17th in points), Ryan Newman (+61), Jeff Gordon (+47), Paul Menard (+39), and Clint Bowyer (+29) all simply hope to survive Richmond and that no driver outside the top 16 in points steals a victory and bumps one of them out.
NSCS RaceTweet: Edwards snags Southern 500 in closing laps, pole sitter Keselowski dominant, Darlington bites many others. Racing was GREAT!
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Brad Keselowski - He won the pole and led a race-high 196 of the 367 laps. He barely lost the race after the final pit stop and, if given just a few more laps of tire wear, might have won his first Southern 500. Among the many things this race proved, it showed that both the Team Penske and the Joe Gibbs Racing cars are pretty much the fastest in the field.
North Korean Missile Dud: Matt Kenseth - Normally one of the smoothest drivers in the field, the 2013 winner of this race (when it was a spring event) had a rough night. He hit the wall early on and lost a couple of laps in the pits. Kenseth's wounded No. 20 Toyota eventually got back into the top 15, but the damage killed his speed and sent him to 21st.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Landon Cassill - Not only did Cassill finish an impressive 20th and on the lead lap for his underfunded No. 40 team, he did so in a patriotic scheme that Sterling Marlin ran post-9/11 in 2001. Stellar. And, Cassill accomplished the feat just a week after competing with fellow driver Josh Wise in an Iron Man triathlon in Europe on the racing off week. They're nuts.
Ghost Driver: Clint Bowyer - Bowyer drove a hand-painted Buddy Baker tribute paint scheme on his No. 15 Toyota. It was sharp, but one barely saw it on the telecast. Bowyer floundered between 17th and 21st most of the race and couldn't ever break into the top 10. Maybe he was playing it safe and didn't want to wreck and hurt his Chase chances. While his teammate, David Ragan, ran inside the top 15 until crashes ended his night, Bowyer was a tick behind that.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Carl Edwards - Hands down. His night looked over after pitting under green and losing two laps early on, but the caution flags caught him up and his talents got him near the front. The talents of his pit crew got him the lead at the end and he drove away. That is how races should be - drivers should be able to out-drive their mistakes and use their great cars to get back to the front. That is exactly what Edwards did. Edwards' two wins this season are the Coca-Cola 600 (longest distance) and now the Southern 500 (longest race on time in 2015).
Wheel of Misfortune: Cole Whitt - His night was over almost before it began. On lap 7, Whitt's Front Row Motorsports teammate Brett Moffitt tagged the wall and bunched up both Whitt's No. 35 and Chase Elliott's No. 25. All three got whacked, but Whitt's front suspension and bodywork were damaged beyond repair. He placed 43rd.
Jimmie Johnson Lucky Horseshoe: Kurt Busch - When he slowed just a little earlier than Martin Truex Jr. expected, Busch got nudged sideways in front of the whole field on lap 308. He also brushed the wall at least two other times earlier in the race. But Busch was dialed in setup-wise and locked in mentally. He drove from outside of the top 20 to 6th in the last 59 laps. Watch this No. 41 team in the Chase.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Why hasn't NASCAR been running this low-downforce package every weekend since Kentucky? Why isn't it being run in every Chase race? And why is there even any question if the Cup cars will run it in 2016? The answer to the first two questions is NASCAR wanting to manage the costs for the race teams, but even that is a weak excuse, when compared to how much better the racing at Kentucky and Darlington
As for 2016 - there just does not seem to be a good reason why anything but these setups should be on the track. There seems to be a school of thinking in the governing body itself, based upon what some drivers have said, that some NASCAR officials think high downforce and higher speeds will make for better racing. This proved untrue at both Indianapolis and Michigan and the generally higher speeds seen the last three years at tracks series-wide diminished the quality of good racing.
Edwards said in Victory Lane he wants to see this racing package in this year's Chase. NASCAR has already said that will not be the case and that likely will remain the case. But NASCAR needs to do the right thing and make the 2016 racing season better with low-downforce cars.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan and Chase Elliott had a rough go of it. Ragan, driving with stitches in his hand after injuring it working at home, ran at or near the top 10 most of Sunday's race, but spun once and got damaged and then got wrecked by Paul Menard soon after. He placed 40th, driving a throwback paint scheme similar to his dad, Ken's.
Elliott, in desperate need to eat into Chris Buescher's Xfinity Series points lead, took a major setback Saturday. Elliott ran in the top 10 most of the
Sunday's race saw Elliott start at the rear of the pack for a rear gear change in his 1985 throwback No. 25 NAPA Chevy. After getting damage in the first caution, Elliott drove into the top 20 and stayed there most of the race. But lap 227 saw Elliott cut a tire and hit the wall, ending his night in 41st.
Ryan Sieg had a decent run in the NXS race, placing 16th and on the lead lap. John Wes Townley finished three laps down in 26th.
And congrats to Reed Sorenson and his wife, Laura. Laura gave birth to their first child, Ella, last Wednesday. That may explain why Sorenson was not in the No. 62 car this weekend, which missed the race, by the way.
Next: The NSCS and NXS both race at Richmond International Raceway this weekend. The Cup cars run Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN and MRN and the Xfinity cars on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN and MRN. The Camping World Truck Series is off until Chicagoland on Sept. 18th.