Carl Edwards – getting a massive boost from his pit crew – persevered to win a yellow flag-filled Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Edwards was in third place behind Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick when a caution flag – one of a track-record 18 – came out on Lap 354 when Jeb Burton spun.
All the race leaders came onto pit road during the caution. Edwards was the first car out and, after a strong restart, kept the lead until the checkered flag waved.
The race was marred by 18 cautions, breaking the record of 17 set in 2009.
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It was Edwards’ second victory of the season, the other coming at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
Keselowski, who started on the pole, finished second, with Denny Hamlin third and Joey Logano fourth.
NASCAR implemented a low-drag force aerodynamic package for the race, similar to one used in July at Kentucky Speedway. With softer tires also supplied by Goodyear, the hope was that cars would slide around on the track more, producing better racing.
Tire wear was an issue. Goodyear supplied a tire that drivers hoped would “fall off” to lower speeds more quickly than usual. Instead, tires only seemed to wear down faster than normal, hurting cars’ handling. Each team was permitted to use 12 sets of tires and many of them had to nurse that allotment through the end of the race.
“I loved it, this is as good as it gets,” said Edwards, who said he was pleased with how the low-drag package worked. “I don’t think I can get in trouble for saying how much I like it.”
Most of the cautions (10) were the result of one-car wrecks, another consequence of the softer tires. Keselowski, in fact, hinted before the race that there would be at least six single-car spins.
It didn’t take long for Darlington to claim its first car. Cole Whitt and Chase Elliott tangled on the backstretch on Lap 7. Elliott saved his car, but Whitt smacked into the inside wall. Brett Moffitt was also involved. That set the tone for a long night.
Keselowski led the race’s first 62 laps before he went to the pits. Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch were faster coming out, however, and Hamlin took the lead on Lap 68.
Keselowski took the lead back from Hamlin on Lap 118. That lasted until Mike Bliss cut a tire and hit the wall two laps later, forcing the race’s sixth yellow flag.
Danica Patrick, who started at the rear of the field because she used a backup car, hit the wall on Lap 190, but got back in the race on Lap 263. Two laps later, she had to leave the race again, as her car limped back onto pit road.
The next race on the schedule comes Saturday at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. It’s the final race before the Chase starts Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Kyle Busch finished seventh and clinched a spot in the Chase. He’ll finish inside the top 30 and has four victories – all after missing the season’s first 11 races due to injuries suffered at Daytona in February.