DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Joe Gibbs couldn’t help but beam about this team victory: Carl Edwards drove superbly, crew chief Darian Grubb made stellar calls with his car two laps down and the No. 19 crew got the car out of the pits in first when it counted most.
The result was Edwards’ first win in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
“If you drew this one up tonight, I don’t think you could draw a bigger victory for us,” Gibbs said after Sunday night’s race.
Edwards rallied after falling two laps down because of a flat tire, then beat Brad Keselowski off pit road for the lead 12 laps from the end and held on for his first Southern 500 victory Sunday night.
Edwards won the Coca Cola 600 in May and had six top-10s in the past seven races. Still, he was looking for a boost that would propel his first-year Joe Gibbs Racing program into the playoffs.
“This is what we needed,” Edwards said. “We really needed a shot in the arm.”
And now Edwards heads into the chase bursting with confidence in the entire team. He was two laps behind after this flat around Lap 90. He was in 36th place on Lap 140. But there he was at the end, pushing pole-sitter Keselowski and defending-Southern 500-winner Kevin Harvick 40 laps from the end.
Keselowski was second and Denny Hamlin finished third. Joey Logano was fourth, followed by Harvick and the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle.
Edwards gave Joe Gibbs Racing its seventh victory in the last 10 events. JGR swept the weekend, with Hamlin winning the Xfinity race Saturday.
Keselowski started on the pole and by far led the most laps with 196. But he was beaten out of the pits by Edwards on Darlington’s record-setting 18th caution period with 12 laps left.
Things we learned from the Southern 500:
JGR DRIVERS LOVE DARLINGTON: Edwards win Sunday night meant that all four drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing have taken races at Darlington. Kyle Busch won in 2008 when it was known as the Dodge Charger 500. Denny Hamlin won two years later after the race was rechristened the Southern 500 and Matt Kenseth won here at 2013. Edwards was the only one of the quartet to win the race on Labor Day weekend.
WHAT A LONG RACE: The Southern 500 lasted four hours, 28 minutes, almost a half hour longer than the Coca Cola 600 last May in Charlotte, an event where drivers went 100 more miles. A big reason for the slow down was a record-setting 18 caution periods at Darlington, besting the mark of 17 set during the 2009 race.
THROWBACKS ARE FUN: The 1970s retro weekend was a hit with fans, drivers, race teams and almost anyone who remembers what it was like four decades ago. There were 35 race teams who participated in some sort of ‘70s paint scheme for the Southern 500. Kyle Larson may have taken the prize for his Kyle Petty-style mustache and curly wig while driving a Mello Yello machine. Larson ran among the leaders most of the race and finished 10th.
LOW DOWNFORCE PACKAGE: Drivers couldn’t say enough good things about the low downforce package used at Darlington for the Southern 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Twitter, “That was some fun!! I loved the new low downforce package.”
The consensus is that the softer tires and low downforce package give drivers the chance to manage their cars and makes moves when necessary. That was apparent with 24 green-flag passes for the lead, which NASCAR Stats said was the second high total at Darlington since the inception of loop data in 2005.
TOYOTA MAKING ITS MARK: It was nine years ago that Toyota stirred up a firestorm in NASCAR when it locked up fan-favorite Dale Jarrett to break into the sport. Now, Edwards win was the 75th victory for the manufacturer, a strong showing in its continuing battle with Ford and Chevrolet for Sprint Cup dominance.