Carl Edwards Enters Darlington Hoping To Defend The Bojangles’ Southern 500by Hunter Thomas August 30, 2016 0 comments
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards has always enjoyed competing at Darlington Raceway, and last year, he finally earned a victory in the prestigious Bojangles’ Southern 500. Heading into this weekend, Edwards looks to defend his race title, while his No. 19 Arris Toyota Camry features a 1999 throwback scheme, honoring Tony Stewart.
On Labor Day weekend last year, Carl Edwards held off a hard charging Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin to score his first victory in the grueling, 367-lap race at Darlington Raceway. In fact, at one point, Edwards was two laps down with hardly a chance to rebound; however, the Columbia, Missouri native wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Edwards went on to lead the final 11 laps to earn, what he says, one of the most memorable victories of his career.
“Last year’s race is memorable for two reasons,” Edwards said. “Number one, we won the race, and it’s the Southern 500, and that in itself is probably, next to the Coke 600, those two together were both the biggest wins of my career. But for me, that race was a really hard fought battle. At one point we were, I believe it was two laps. We fought back, and we didn’t quit and we made it back up to the front. It wasn’t an easy win. It was a special win.”
Since Edwards began competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series back in 2004, he has always found success at Darlington Raceway. During his first series appearance at the Lady in Black, Edwards piloted his way to an impressive seventh place finish. His former Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and spotter Booby Hudson, helped Edwards out early in his career and played a huge role in his quick ability to adapt to the egg-shaped Darlington Raceway. In 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Edwards has amassed one win, four top-five and eight top-10 finishes, making his average finish 11.6.
“I really like the place,” Edwards said. “I like how it races. It’s a really mentally and physically exhausting track, but I like the challenge, and I’ve always had really good race cars. From my first trip there in the (Camping World) Truck Series for Jack (Roush, team owner), the cars and the trucks have been really good.”
While Edwards has come up just short in years past, no finish stung more than the race that got away from his team in 2011, when he finished second to Regan Smith, who won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. In the closing laps, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer wrecked exiting Turn 4, setting the field up for a green-white-checkered finish. On the restart, Edwards thought that his fresh tires would outrun Smith’s old tires, but in the end, he had to settle for a runner-up finish.
“Man, that one sticks with me,” Edwards said. “I would’ve taken him a lot more seriously on those old tires. We didn’t know how fast they were going to be, and so I planned on driving right by him once the race got started, and that was not how it went. That was definitely one that got away.”
This weekend, Edwards enters the Bojangles’ Southern 500 coming off a seventh place finish at Michigan International Speedway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver currently sits third in the championship standings with two wins, as well as seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.
Out of the 24 races run this season, Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated by winning 10 of them. In the past eight races at Darlington Raceway, the organization has earned four victories. That’s not a bad statistic at all, and if history repeats itself, look for Edwards and his teammates to be strong contenders this weekend. One thing is for certain though, a victory at Darlington Raceway places a driver into a very exclusive group of winners.
“I think that I speak for all of the drivers in saying, yeah, it’s one of the biggest events of the year,” Edwards said.
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas