Carl Edwards is the most physically fit driver in the NASCAR garage. In 2015, he has now won the two longest, most grueling races on the schedule.
Edwards won his second Sprint Cup race of the season on Sunday night winning the Bojangles Southern 500, a race that ended just before midnight on the East coast. Edwards also won the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
On a cool throwback Labor Day weekend for the sport, Edwards outlasted several other championship contenders that could have easily went to victory lane. Brad Keselowski was second followed by Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick. All four of those drivers including Edwards, and Kyle Busch have cemented their status as teams to be reckoned with when the Chase begins on September 20th.
“I feel like every race is different, and I never feel like a place owes me anything. I feel like it’s an honor to drive here,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ win continues the Joe Gibbs Racing resurgence as they have now won 7 of the last 10 races, and 10 of the last 20.
“Tonight just was really special for a number of reasons, not just because it’s the Southern 500 but because of how well my crew worked on pit road, how well Darian called the race. We came back, we didn’t quit.”
One of the reasons Gibbs has been so strong is great work in the pits. This has always been a staple of the Gibbs bunch, likely because a Super Bowl Champion football coach owns the team and great teamwork is essential.
Edwards beat Brad Keselowski off pit road and had the lead going into the final restart with eight laps to go. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin made a charge, but couldn’t get by Carl, who did his trademark back flip after the checkered flag.
Edwards also overcame some adversity and was able to rally from a flat tire that left him two laps down in the nearly five-hour race. With a race this long, having a great crew gives you the chance to come back.
Carl gave a ton of credit to his crew after the race.
“Well, I feel like my pit crew ought to be sitting up here doing interviews. They won that race for us. It was just amazing to come down third and to go out leading the race. Darian, all the guys, nobody gave up tonight. We were two laps down. We fought back hard. It’s a huge win for us.”
The racing was pretty good throughout the night with the aero package similar to the one run at Kentucky earlier in the summer. The drivers loved the package because of the low down force and soft tires.
“Well, I hope that — I mean, I’m a pretty — I kind of shoot for the moon kind of guy, and I hope a race like tonight makes them think about the idea of running this even in the Chase. Everybody has developed this package. I believe it’s pretty obvious that it races really well and it’s really fun to do and it’s fun to watch.”
Even the fastest and best handling cars were sliding around like they were on a dirt track through the turns. Tires were at a premium all night long with teams putting on scuffs late in the going trying to preserve their new sticker tires for the stretch run. It was a nice blend of strategy and driving ability that we did not see at Indianapolis and Michigan.
Edwards knows his strength and physical fitness is good for the marathon races, but he knows it is also about the team and how a second here or there in the pits could be a major difference maker.
“Well, Darian won us the Coke 600 with an amazing pit call. He just did a great job. But I do like the longer races. I think growing up it was so cool to me that NASCAR raced these long events, these tough races, and I really enjoy them. I’ve got a great team from CTS with Dean Golich as a trainer, Rob Hulett, the guys at Hulett House Gym, they help me a ton to try and stay in physical shape. Darian does a really good job of trying to keep me calm.”
With the struggles at Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards’ decision to move on to Gibbs with a fourth team appears to be a slam-dunk. He wanted to be a championship contender. With the equipment and crew he has at his disposal, you have to put his name into the title conversation. He also historically performs well at the mile-and-a-half tracks during the ten race Chase.
He also has a championship winning crew chief in Darian Grubb. Carl would like to forget that Grubb beat him in 2011 with Tony Stewart, even though the two finished with the same amount of points and Stewart won virtue of total wins that season.
“He tied for a win, OK?” Carl said.
“I got the ring,” fired back Grubb.
“No, here’s the deal. Darian is a championship crew chief. I’ve worked against him. I’ve raced against him, and I’ve worked with him, and it’s like Coach (Joe Gibbs) said, there is nobody that calls a better race than Darian Grubb. That’s it. We’ve just got to go dig deep and give each other 100 percent and go get a championship together. That would be so cool, especially after what he did to me in 2011. It would mean a lot to win a championship with him.”
The Columbia, Missouri native has 7 top ten finishes in his last 8 races, with a 13th at Indianapolis being his worst.