Vallejo native Jeff Gordon remains in the Chase Grid after finishing 16th, still looking for first win of 2015
By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Carl Edwards came back from being two laps down and survived a record 17 caution flags Sunday to win the Bojangles Southern 500 for the first time in his career.
He celebrated the victory his usual way – by vaulting into a backflip from the window opening of his race car’s door.
His win adds to team owner Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination of the second half of the season. The former NFL coach’s drivers have accumulated 20 checkered flags so far this year.
Edwards is known for his post-win backflips, often performed on the start-finish line. That’s where he landed on his feet after Sunday’s race victory flip.
Vallejo native Jeff Gordon finished 16th. Winless so far in 2015 – his last season as a full time Cup driver – Gordon remains in the Chase grid on points.
The four-time Cup champion will have one more chance to get a win before the start of the Chase. Drivers next head for Richmond, Virginia, for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Edwards started getting behind Sunday during one of the race’s record 18 cautions.
He stayed out while others pitted on Lap 62. But that forced him to pit on Lap 89, and he got caught by the caution when Michael Annett crashed. That put Edwards two laps behind the leaders, a deficit that took 200 laps to correct.
Bakersfield native Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski had been battling for the lead when Jeb Burton’s spin drew the record-breaking 18th caution. Edwards’ crew gave him a lightning-fast pit stop that put him out front for the restart. Charging to the lead when the green flag dropped, Edwards fended off Keselowski and Harvick to hold on for the win.
His happy crew quickly put white tape on the D in the Darlington Raceway logo, making it read “Carlington.”
Later, Edwards said those pit crew members should be credited for winning the race.
“We fought back hard. It’s a huge win for us,” he said. “The Southern 500 – it’s obviously one of the most sought-after wins of motorsports.”
Darlington, South Carolina, “is really the heart of racing,” Gibbs said. “We really love this race. It’s extremely hard to win.”
The venerable track, with its odd curves that get scuffed by cars scraping the walls, has such nicknames as “The Lady in Black” and the track that is “too tough to tame.” But Edwards said the rough and tumble racing he experienced “is the style of racing I love.”
Keselowski, who had to settle for runner-up, led the most laps at 196, “but we just came up short right at the end, which was a bummer.”
Behind him came Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Harvick, Kurt Busch, his brother Kyle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Elk Grove native Kyle Larson to round out the top 10.
Besides Harvick, Larson and Gordon, the finishes for other California drivers were: 19th for six-time champion Jimmie Johnson of El Cajon; Los Gatos driver A.J. Allmendinger was 23rd; Matt DiBenedetto of Grass Valley was 25th; David Gilliland of Riverside was 27th; Casey Mears of Bakersfield was 29th; and Cole Whitt of Alpine was 43rd after crashing on the fifth lap.
If the Chase were starting this week, Johnson would be on the pole. He and Kyle Busch are tied with four wins, but Johnson has more season points. Busch lost ground early after sitting out 11 races because of injuries received in an Xfinity crash the night before Sprint Cup’s season opening Daytona 500 in Florida.
Behind them are Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth with three wins each; Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch and Edwards with two wins each; Keselowski, Truex and Hamlin with one win each, and on points, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
That grid could change after Saturday night’s race.The winner could replace one of the drivers who have no victory this year.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 will be broadcast at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports.