Carl Edwards and the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota team completed an incredible come back from two laps down to earn a thrilling victory in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
It was another strong night across the board for Joe Gibbs Racing with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch joining Edwards in the top ten with third and seventh-place finishes respectively. Meanwhile Matt Kenseth battled from two laps down as well and was able to get back on the lead lap before finishing 21st.
The seventh-place finish for Busch officially locks in his position for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The win by Edwards was the 75th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory for Toyota.
With a record-setting 18 cautions on the night, pit stops and tire conservation proved to be important down the stretch. That proved advantageous for the great pit crews of Joe Gibbs Racing as the 19 team put the ARRIS Camry out front on the final stop of the night and then Edwards did the rest to claim victory.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota in the 13th position and climbed his way into the top 10 over the early portion of the race. Miscommunication on the radio would lead to Edwards remaining out on the track during a round of pit stops which allowed him to restart as the leader on lap 65, but with older tires than his competitors, he would slip back in the field. Edwards would have to pit on lap 90 after falling all the way back to 30th. He would fall two laps down to the leaders in the process. He would use the wave around to get one lap back with just under 200 laps remaining. He would restart 31st on lap 195 as one of just three cars one lap down. When another caution flew on lap 207 he would be in the lucky dog position and back on the lead lap. He would line up 18th for a restart on lap 238. Edwards would run 13th with 80 laps remaining and was back inside the top ten at lap 300. He would maintain a spot in the top ten from that point on and was actually able to race as high as second on the next run before before a final caution with 13 laps remaining. The ARRIS crew would complete a tremendous stop that allowed Edwards to move from third when entering the pits to restart with the lead with eight laps to go. He would drive away over the final laps for his second win of the season.
Denny Hamlin started his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota from the sixth position after dominating Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 XFINITY Series race. Hamlin patiently worked his way to the front of the field and would take his first lead of the night on lap 68. He would go on to lead the next 49 laps before giving way to the 2 car following a restart. Hamlin would fall back to fifth on the short green flag run before another caution came out on lap 121. The 11 Sport Clips team would make the call to pit for four tires and Hamlin would line up 16th for the restart on lap 125. Hamlin would race his way back inside the top 10 and a great pit stop would put the Sport Clips Camry back inside the top five to restart fourth with just under 200 laps remaining. Hamlin remained in the top five and was running third on lap 220. He would move back to the front of the field on lap 222, before another caution on lap 229. Hamlin brought his No. 11 Camry down pit road in first, but a problem with the jack cost him several spots leaving him to restart sixth on lap 238. Hamlin would battle back to the front of the field and race inside the top five. He was running fifth when a caution came out with 13 laps left. His pit crew would deliver gaining him two spots and allowing him to restart third. He would hold that spot to the finish.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota in the 10th position and was able to maintain a spot inside the top ten over the course of the first 100 laps. Busch was in the backup car for the weekend following an accident in Friday’s practice session on the slippery track at Darlington. He would restart his M&Ms Camry 14th on lap 115 and was back inside the top ten for another restart on lap 125. Another quick caution followed and Busch was up to seventh for another restart on lap 133. He would continue to hold the seventh position through another round of pit stops with 200 laps to go. The M&Ms Camry would receive right side damage with when Busch got caught up in a spin by the 16 car. Fortunately the damage to the right front of his car proved minimal and he was able to restart the race in 27th on lap 212. He would climb his way back into the top 20 in less than 10 laps. The team would elect not to pit in order to save tires and that allowed the 18 to restart in the lead with 100 laps to go. However Busch would lose ground quickly on the older tires dropping back outside the top 20 before the next caution. He would pit on the next caution for tires and this time restarted 24th with 85 laps remaining. He would gain seven spots in the first six laps back to green flag racing and was up to 14th with 70 laps to go. He would settle in to run 11th on the final green flag run of the night before a caution with 13 laps left. Busch would manage to re-enter the top ten and finish seventh to officially secure his place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Matt Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 14th position and quickly maneuvered his way into the top ten. He was all the way up into the top five after just 18 laps but got loose on the slippery track and made contact with the outside wall. The Dollar General Camry would suffer damage to the right rear and a flat tire would force Kenseth to bring it down pit road for repairs. He would fall two laps off the pace in the process. He would get one of those laps back on lap 190 when crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the call to stay out under caution and use the wave around. He would restart 32nd on lap 195 as one of only three cars one lap down. He would eventually earn the lucky dog position when a caution came out on lap 228. That allowed Kenseth to restart 30th on lap 238. He would race his way back toward the front and restarted 11th with 85 laps remaining after staying out on the track under caution. However new tires would prove to be an enormous advantage on this night and Kenseth would fall back to 18th with 70 laps remaining. Kenseth would fight to the finish from there earning 21st-place despite the early race damage.
Edwards captured the win and was followed by Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. There was a Darlington race record 18 cautions on the night for a total of 89 laps and 24 lead changes among 11 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will move to Richmond next weekend for the final race of the regular season prior to start of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. NBCSN will broadcast the race live from Richmond on Saturday, September 12 with coverage starting at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:30 PM ET).