A Jeb Burton spin with 12 laps to go in the Southern 500 brought out a record 18th caution over Darlington Raceway
As the field bunched together to make the final pit stops, Carl Edwards, a two time runner-up in Sprint Cup races at Darlington, sat in third.
“I feel like every race is different, and I never feel like a place owes me anything,” Edwards said later. “I feel like it’s an honor to drive here.”
He had just participated in a lengthy fight for the lead between Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, the winner of the 2014 Southern 500. After leading three laps early, Edwards led Lap 345 before Keselowski grabbed it back.
“I probably had a little bit too much fun sometimes out there,” Edwards said following his first-career win at the “Track Too Tough To Tame.” “It was fun to just dig down and to try to catch those guys and to battle them, and then watching those guys battle, it’s like, man, ‘I hope they really get into it so I can catch them again.'”
Edwards continued: “It’s so cool to just be sitting in that car and not thinking about anything but those two pedals and that steering wheel and trying to get those guys.”
In Edwards’ pit box, crew chief Darian Grubb was thinking about something else: tires
An early communication issue kept Edwards from pitting with the rest of the field and resulted in him going two laps down. But Grubbs knew he had a fast car after Edwards went from 13th to eighth in the first 40 laps. By Lap 60, he was fifth.
After 18 cautions and flawless pit road execution, Edwards had eventually returned to the lead lap. On Lap 300, he was ninth. During the final caution, Edwards’ knew he could count on his crew to give him perfection one more time.
“I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to pass guys on pit road for me than to pass them on the racetrack,” Edwards said. “So I’m really proud of my guys. Just like (team owner Joe Gibbs) said, it’s an interesting part of the sport because man you’re just on that knife-edge. To perform that fast my guys are just letting it all hang out and they’re able to do that.”
A 43 lap green-flag stretch, the second longest of the night, left Grubb with an easy choice over whether to choose two tires over four when Edwards rolled into his pit box, which was seven stalls before the start-finish line. Keselowski had the final stall, seven ahead of Harvick’s.
“Absolutely not,” Grubb said. “We had one set of stickers left there in the pit stall, just based on the way that we had played the race, and we knew at that point that we had to have a fighting chance with four tires just to make sure we could give him a shot. I think everybody on pit road knew it.”
When it was over, Edwards’ No. 19 ARRIS Toyota was the first across the exit line, narrowly beating out Harvick, Keselowski and teammate Denny Hamlin, who would finish third.
Edwards had fresh tires, much like he did in the 2011 Southern 500 on the penultimate restart with seven laps to go. Unlike that year, when Edwards restarted third behind Regan Smith and Keselowski only to finish second to Smith, Edwards started from the point position and controlled his fate for the final eight laps on the way to the win.
Making the connections to 2011 even stronger, Grubb was the crew chief for Tony Stewart when Edwards lost to him for the championship in Homestead.
“We’ve just got to go dig deep and give each other 100 percent and go get a championship together,” Edwards said. “That would be so cool, especially after what he did to me in 2011.”