NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Steals Win

NASCAR Barometer: Edwards Steals Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Carl Edwards stole a victory from Brad Keselowski with a lightning-fast final pit stop in Sunday's Southern 500. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver completed his battle back to the front of the field after making a poor decision to stay out on old tires earlier in the race. Despite the win for the No. 19 it was Keselowski who dominated the proceedings. The No. 2 was forced to settle for second place, but there was a lot of praise among the top drivers for the low down force rules package that NASCAR used for this race.

Keselowski started the race from pole and dominated the opening laps. Differing pit strategies began to come to the fore, but four-tire stops were universally the best option. The racing throughout the field was intense and close, no doubt helped by putting more control in the drivers' hands. The race and harsh surface caused a number of mistakes by drivers, knocking some out of contention and giving way to a record number of cautions.

With just one race remaining in the hunt for a spot in the Chase for the Championship, the pressure on those needing to win will hit its peak. Kyle Busch locked his place in the battle, and Clint Bowyer sits on the bubble. A first-time 2015 winner next week in Richmond would knock Clint Bowyer out of the fight, but at least four drivers will qualify without wins.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards - An early decision not to pit dropped Edwards

Carl Edwards stole a victory from Brad Keselowski with a lightning-fast final pit stop in Sunday's Southern 500. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver completed his battle back to the front of the field after making a poor decision to stay out on old tires earlier in the race. Despite the win for the No. 19 it was Keselowski who dominated the proceedings. The No. 2 was forced to settle for second place, but there was a lot of praise among the top drivers for the low down force rules package that NASCAR used for this race.

Keselowski started the race from pole and dominated the opening laps. Differing pit strategies began to come to the fore, but four-tire stops were universally the best option. The racing throughout the field was intense and close, no doubt helped by putting more control in the drivers' hands. The race and harsh surface caused a number of mistakes by drivers, knocking some out of contention and giving way to a record number of cautions.

With just one race remaining in the hunt for a spot in the Chase for the Championship, the pressure on those needing to win will hit its peak. Kyle Busch locked his place in the battle, and Clint Bowyer sits on the bubble. A first-time 2015 winner next week in Richmond would knock Clint Bowyer out of the fight, but at least four drivers will qualify without wins.

UPGRADE

Carl Edwards - An early decision not to pit dropped Edwards deep in the field Sunday night, and forced him to battle the remainder of the distance to regain everything lost. He did just that, and used a fast pit stop under the race's final caution to gain track position, which he held for the final laps as he held on to win the Southern 500. The No. 19 was able to use his tires and chassis handling in the closing laps to fend off Keselowski who dominated the race until the end. The win was the second for Edwards of 2015, and extended his streak of top-10 finishes to five races. Edwards is finally discovering his feet at Gibbs, and the results are showing it.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski dominated the opening segments of Sunday's Southern 500. The No. 2 started from pole and led through three cautions until Kasey Kahne used a two-tore stop to vault forward in the order. He once again battled back to reclaim the point, though. When everything was complete he led 196 of the race's 367 laps and narrowly lost the victory after coming out of the pits behind the competition under the final caution. It was a disappointment for him not to win Sunday, but Keselowski won last year's Richmond fall race from pole, and only failed to lead 17 of the race's 400 laps. The team should be optimistic of their championship chances with one race before the Chase.

Denny Hamlin -
Of the two fastest cars at Darlington, Hamlin's was one of them. The No. 11 led his fair share of laps and seemed to be Keselowski's main adversary. The race performance extended the improvements this team has been making in recent weeks. Inconsistency this team showed early and midseason have all but disappeared as the Chase approaches. Peaking at the perfect moment is important to have a long run in this new format, and Hamlin continues to climb that mountain. He finished third in Darlington for his third consecutive top-5. The true test will come this week in Richmond, though. After a strong start to his career at the track Hamlin has four consecutive finishes outside of the top 20 now.

Kyle Busch -
Busch did everything he needed to secure his spot in the Chase Sunday at Darlington. The driver finished seventh on the night, which was enough to guarantee his spot in the top 30 in points to go along with his victories, earning him a shot at the championship. The effort wasn't without adversity, though. Busch was sideways at one point and had to avoid mistakes to get the job done. Still, he showed the maturity needed to not let the issues overcome him. He kept his cool and powered back inside the top 10 for the final miles. Busch completed a long journey last week, and a new one gets under way in two weeks when he battles for the title.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - The No. 48 team continues to hone their craft before getting underway in the Chase. Johnson spun early in Sunday's race, losing valuable track position. However, the team fought back to re-enter the top 10. From that point on Johnson was a serious contender in the race, which is exactly the type of perseverance and rebound that will allow them to advance in the Chase. The fairytale story didn't come true, though. Johnson ended the night in 19th position. The team has a wonderful Richmond record, though. They will use the final race before the Chase to ensure they are prepared to overcome whatever adversity needed to fight for that championship.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
Stenhouse was racing against Clint Bowyer just past the halfway mark of Sunday night's race when he lost control and ended his night. The Roush team made significant strides at Darlington this past week, but Stenhouse again couldn't convert it to a top finish. That was not the first time this season that Stenhouse qualified near the front of the field, but fell afoul of mistakes or trouble during the race. In order for Roush to complete their turnaround they need to be scoring top finishes, which Stenhouse has failed to do thus far. His Chase hopes may be over. He hasn't finish in the top 25 at Richmond in his last three tries.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth was a victim of being overly optimistic too early in Sunday's race. The Gibbs driver tried to overtake Harvick, but found himself out of control and slapped the wall. The contact was heavy and damaged the rear corner enough to force him to pit for repairs. The work took place under green so Kenseth found himself multiple laps down by the time he returned to the track. The adversity was too much for him to overcome, and he spent the majority of the distance down a number of laps to the leaders. When the race finished he was classified in the 21st position, but was back on the lead lap. In 31 Richmond starts Kenseth has one win and an average finish of 16th.

David Ragan -
With Michael Waltrip Racing closing full-time operations after 2015 Ragan needs to audition for a full-time driver somewhere in the Cup series. His one-lap speed in the No. 55 has been there, and it was there when he substituted for Kyle Busch earlier in the year as well. The race results have been lacking, though. He lost control late in Sunday's Southern 500 and hit the inside wall before being punted by Paul Menard, which isn't going to impress many potential employers for next season. Ragan's future in the series has been questioned in the past, and it is again now. The veteran driver is a former race winner, but sorely needs some respectable finishes in order to warrant a chance with a new team in 2016.

Chase Elliott -
In what was his last Sprint Cup start before taking over the No. 24 for Jeff Gordon, Elliott found trouble early. The No. 25 car was caught deep in the field and rear-ended another car slowing ahead. Elliott was there to race last week, but played catch up instead. While he won't be making an appearance in any of the remaining Cup races of 2015, he will take over one of the most prized seats from 2016 onward. The son of Bill Elliott has big shoes to fill from both his father and the driver he takes over for. The next season will test his mettle, and it would have been nicer to have better taste in his mouth than last week's problems left before that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kyle Larson - Darlington was a good race for Larson in 2014, but some of 2015 has been a struggle for the second-year driver. Sporting a vintage Mellow Yellow paint scheme Larson drove his Southern 500 like a true veteran. He was consistently in the top 10 throughout the race, and dealt confidently with all of the unique circumstances a race at Darlington can throw at a driver. He finished the race in 10th, his seventh top-10 of the season. Larson absolutely needs to win in Richmond to make the Chase, which doesn't seem likely. The momentum he is building toward the end of the season may be a good omen for his chances in 2016, though.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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