With retro paint schemes, throwback uniforms and the low downforce package all the rage, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 66th annual Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Surprising: One driver at least excelled yet again at one of the extended play versions of NASCAR racing. Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 10 ARRIS Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, won not only the Coke 600, one of the longest races of the season, but also claimed victory with his signature back flip at Darlington this past weekend.
This year’s race at Darlington was significantly longer at four and a half hours thanks to the record 18 cautions that took place during the event. And Edwards had to work even harder, battling back to Victory Lane from two laps down at one point in the race.
“I do like the longer races,” Edwards said. “I think growing up it was so cool to me that NASCAR raced these long events, these tough races, and I really enjoy them.
“It’s fun. These things are like a big adventure. You go out there and you race for three or four hours and you try not to tear anything up. It was so cool tonight to be able to come back from two laps down.”
Not Surprising: Not only was Coach Joe Gibbs celebrating a victory with Edwards but he was also reveling in what he called a “great sports story” as one of his other drivers Kyle Busch clinched a spot in the Chase for the Championship in spite of sitting out multiple races due to injury.
The driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota finished in the seventh spot at ‘The Lady in Black.’
“Yeah, I think that’s also a great sports story,” Gibbs said of Busch. “Everything that happened to us there at Daytona and then for him to bounce back in 11 weeks, I felt like the odds were against us.
“And for him to be able to pull this off and come back, win four times and get back in the Chase tonight — they had a great game plan. They talked all night about the game plan, what they wanted to do, and first up was to make sure that they had enough points tonight that they didn’t have to worry next week.
“So that was a big deal for them, and it was great for Kyle, and obviously it was great for everybody else over here at the 19 car and Carl.”
Surprising: Darlington and stick shifting had a thing or two in common, at least for one driver who just happened to finish runner-up.
“You know, the race kind of reminded me of — I remember when I was a kid and my dad wanted to teach me how to drive a car, and he gave me a stick shift,” Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller High Life Ford, said. “You practice and you learn and you learn how to drive it and you stall it out all the time and then eventually you kind of start to figure it out and you stop stalling it so much and you get into a pattern and you don’t stall it out anymore.
“The race reminded me a lot of that because the cars, just five or six years ago when I entered Sprint Cup, were extremely difficult to drive, much like a stick shift when you’re first learning how to drive.
“And then they’ve gotten really easy to drive over the last four or five years, to the point where we’re all kind of looking around at each other as drivers going, wait a minute here, this isn’t good, it shouldn’t be this easy to drive these.
“So we asked NASCAR to, ‘hey, make these cars harder to drive, give us our, metaphorically speaking, stick shift back, and they did, and I think somebody thought they’d be really funny and pick Darlington as the track to do that, which would be like if you picked the mountains of Virginia to give somebody a stick shift back.
“It’s kind of that same feeling.”
Not Surprising: A career high and a team record were achieved by two drivers, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, earned his 18th top-five finish, extending his new single-season career high and topping his 16 top-five finishes from 2010.
Truex Jr. scored his 17th top-10 finish in 25 races, exceeding Kurt Busch’s team record of 16 top-10s in 2013.
Surprising: There was a real lack of communication for the driver of the No. 1 McDonald’s/Cessna Chevrolet, however, he still managed to finish top-15.
Jamie McMurray had radio trouble throughout the race, which was particularly challenging at a track like Darlington where navigating traffic is essential.
“We had an okay car tonight,” McMurray said. “I was super conservative. My radio only worked about two percent of the time. So, I had a spotter sometimes, but I didn’t others. I was really conservative on restarts and really throughout the whole race.”
McMurray remained in the 10th position in the point standings after the Darlington race, still looking to lock himself into Chase contention.
Not Surprising: There was no head hanging for another driver trying to also get into the Chase for the championship. Aric Almirola, in his classic throwback No. 43 STP Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, took the checkered flag in the 11th spot.
“It was a crazy night,” Almirola said. “A little bit of a struggle at the beginning and then Trent (Owens, crew chief) and the boys made some really good calls and got the car handling a lot better and I was really happy with it there toward the end. We got it the best we could and I think we got out of here with a respectable finish.
“We need a really good night at Richmond and hope for some bad luck for the 15 but if that doesn’t happen we don’t have anything to hang our heads about to be honest with you. That is all we had tonight. We will go on to Richmond and race like hell there and see what happens.”
Surprising: After winning and having such success at Darlington, it was a surprisingly rough night for Chase Elliott, who was running his last race of his ‘practice’ Cup season.
The driver of the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet and the future driver of the No. 24 car, had trouble early in the race as well as later in the race when he cut down a right-front tire on Lap 228.
“I didn’t feel like it (tire) was going down or anything. It just like going in there, getting into (Turn) 1 and tore up the race car, unfortunately.
“I messed up there at the beginning of the race and got us behind and you just can’t do stuff like that.”
Not Surprising: There were more than Darlington stripes for both Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick. Stenhouse Jr. finished 38th after his hit into the wall and Patrick fared even worse after her close encounter, finishing 42nd.
“It just snapped around,” Stenhouse said. “It was a lot of fun out there sliding around and tires wearing out and I think this is what we all wanted. It just bit a few of us.”
“It snapped pretty hard in (turn) four,” Patrick said. “So, I don’t know, I mean they said it looked like it snapped pretty hard. I’m not 100 percent sure. It could have just gotten loose, but it could have been a cut tire, too.”
“It’s a bummer. We fought our way back to the lead lap, and I felt like we were in a position to have a decent end to the day.”
Surprising: Running the final race of his career at Darlington, the driver of the No. 24 3M Chevrolet and his crew chief just seemed lost as far as trying to make the car better.
Jeff Gordon qualified well and started the race in the fifth position. He kept falling back, unable to make the adjustments needed to keep up with the track and finished 16th.
“I like the aero package. I like the racecar,” Gordon said. “We just couldn’t ever get track position. I don’t know, we struggled tonight. We got it pretty good on the short runs and we were mediocre on the long runs, but not great. We just had some issues on pit road.”
Not Surprising: With a high number of cautions, 18 in total, the best tweet of the day came from Clint Bowyer, who finished the race in 17th in his Buddy Baker Tribute Toyota.
“Hope no one chose the drinking word CAUTION,” Bowyer tweeted. “They probably dropping cylinders and running a little rough if so!”
As the Cup Series heads into the final race before the Chase at Richmond next weekend, the sport also paid tribute to Gail Sommer Germain, wife of team owner Bob Germain Jr., who lost her valiant battle with breast cancer at the age of 45. The No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet race team wore pink armbands at Darlington in her honor.