When NASCAR announced that Darlington Raceway would return to its rightful place on Labor Day weekend in 2015 for the Southern 500, all was right in the world. And it got much better when the teams, broadcasters, and sponsors banded together to make the race a throwback to the 1970s weekend. When you combine the two, it creates the perfect NASCAR weekend for the Sprint Cup Series.
Everything was in place for a special NASCAR weekend at track known as the Lady in Black. Special paint schemes, the return of Ken Squier and Ned Jarrett to call the race on NBC Sports, and legends from the sport back to join in the fun all meant all eyes in the motorsports world would focus on South Carolina on Sunday night.
In qualifying on Saturday, Brad Keselowski (#2 Miller Lite Ford) took his Bobby Allison-inspired car to the pole, and he would pick up where he left off on Sunday night. Keselowski would dominate the opening 100 laps of the Southern 500, battling through repeated cautions during that period.
With a new lower downforce rules package and a new tire from Goodyear on hand for the weekend, the racing on Sunday night would also turn back the clock to where drivers battled against each other, as well as the track and their own cars. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy) and Ryan Newman (#31 CAT Chevy), who many would not expect to run into trouble, would spin during the race thanks in part to the now looser cars.
Pit crews would be challenged throughout the night at Darlington Raceway. At a track that eats up tires and requires frequent stops within forty laps of each other in most cases, it came as no surprise to see cars into the pits nearly a dozen times in the course of the 500-mile race. With grip and tires at a premium, experiments with two tires or staying out on tires worked to little or no avail.
A number of the young guns in the Sprint Cup Series ran into trouble throughout the race. Chase Elliott (#25 NAPA Chevy) was involved in two wrecks in his final Cup start of the season, while Trevor Bayne (#6 Advocare Ford) would spin on two separate occasions.
As the race wore inside the final 100 laps, the two key players at the front were Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick (#4 Budwieser Chevy). The two battled back and forth for the lead, up through a late race caution with only thirteen laps to go to set a new record for most yellows at Darlington. With one more pit stop, it would be Carl Edwards (#19 Arris Toyota) stealing the lead.
Edwards, rallying from two laps down after being caught out on pit strategy early in the race, would lead with only eight laps to go. And with eight flawless laps, Edwards would march to victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington, adding his name to the deep history of the oldest speedway in NASCAR.
As Carl Edwards raced across to victory, Brad Keselowski would come home in second, and Edwards’ teammate Denny Hamlin (#11 Sport Clips Toyota) in third. Meanwhile, other teammate Kyle Busch (#18 M&M’s Toyota) and Jamie McMurray (#1 McDonald’s Chevy) clinched their spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. This will be McMurray’s first career chase.
Up next, it will be the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ regular season at Richmond International Raceway. It is the last chance for drivers to clinch their spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. See the race live on NBCSN on Saturday night, preceded by the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Friday night.