Carl Edwards and other drivers might not have a vote, but if they did they’d want NASCAR to hang on to the low-drag aerodynamic package that produced some tight racing Sunday night at Darlington Raceway.
“I think we’re at a bigger crossroads than most people realize,” Edwards said after winning the Southern 500. “We can go with a package that makes our cars easier to drive and have a (boring) Talladega every week.
“Or we can make them harder to drive and show off the massive talents of our drivers and crew chiefs in these races. I hope they go with the latter and stay with this package.”
The package used Sunday apparently worked. A shorter spoiler (among other technical tweaks) and a softer tire led to less stability under the cars and forced drivers to work harder to pass and/or keep their positions. Either way, there seems to be general agreement that it produced better racing. There were 24 green flag passes for the lead, second highest at Darlington since the inception of NASCAR’s loop data in 2005.
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“I think the general consensus among all the drivers, at least, is that we would like to start with this package (next year) and possibly try to get even more down force off the cars,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth Sunday. “It seems like they race better when you are behind someone, when you are not as dependent on having the air on the car. I think that’s always going to be important. It doesn’t matter what type of racing you watch, the leader always has a little bit of an advantage. But it seems like he has less of an advantage with the smaller spoiler and this rules package.”
Third-place finisher Denny Hamlin was even more enthusiastic after the Southern 500, which had a track-record 18 cautions.
“It’s the package we need to run from now on,” said Hamlin. “It’s unbelievable how much tire fall-off there is. You’re sliding around, there’s more wrecks, which is unusual but it’s a good thing because guys are messing up. That happens every now and then in racing. It’s a lot of fun from our perspective and it’s something that we can look forward to.”
Edwards’ victory came after his pit crew got the No. 19 Toyota out of the pits first during a caution late in the race.
“My pit crew should be sitting up here doing this interview,” Edwards said during his post-race news conference. “They won that race for us.”
It was Edwards’ second victory of the season, the other coming at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Cup circuit’s longest race. With all the cautions Sunday, however, the Southern 500 lasted 4 hours, 28 minutes. The Charlotte race lasted 4 hours, 3 minutes.
It also continued a summer-long hot streak by Joe Gibbs Racing, which now has eight victories over the past 14 races. JGR’s Kyle Busch also clinched a spot in the Chase, which begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway, after missing the first 11 races because of injuries suffered at Daytona in February. He’s won four races and can’t finish outside the top 30 in the points standings.
“Making the Chase was something we weren’t all sure was possible after my injuries,” said Busch. “They’re working really hard at Joe Gibbs Racing – we’ve got a lot of speed and I think all four cars have a really good shot at this championship. I had my hands full tonight.”