Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Bojangles’ Southern 500

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Let’s give credit where credit is due. The race on Sunday night was one of the best in a long time. There was close racing, authentic cautions, and attrition. Yes, Brad Keselowski was dominant, but dominance is part of racing sometimes. Ned Jarrett once won this race by 14 laps. The low-downforce package, coupled with a tire that actually wore out before the end of a fuel run, was a huge step in the right direction. Returning the Southern 500 to what has always been its rightful date was another one. No, none of the fanfare or the success of one race erase the mistakes, but NASCAR hit a home run this weekend.

If NASCAR hit the home run, then the rest of the weekend already had the bases loaded. The retro theme, from the paint schemes to Aric Almirola‘s Richard Petty Fu Manchu, also brought about a segment of the race being covered by Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett, who called it to perfection. That raises the question of whether the voices in the booth are partly to blame for the lackluster races? Squier made it sound like every lap was a barnburner. For a day, at least, NASCAR regained a bit of its former glory. And it was enough to remind us what might have been.

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

For the first time in a while, tires really meant something. Teams burned through tires trying to keep up with the field. Strategy played a serious role, as some teams used most of their allotted 12 sets of Goodyears early. Kasey Kahne was down to one fresh set with over 100 laps to go. How big were fresh tires? Carl Edwards stayed out under an early caution due to a miscommunication, and fell from the race lead to 27th in a matter of a few laps. Crew chiefs were telling their drivers to buck up and drive. Coupled with the lower downforce package, a real tire strategy put the racing into the teams’ hands to a degree we haven’t seen in a long time.

Another factor was the sheer length of time of the race. After more than three hours, there was still more than a quarter of the race left. Racing is physically demanding on an easy night, and this one was far from easy. Drivers at this level don’t generally get distracted by small aches and pains, but the longer the race and the more tired they get, the more likely they are to make a small mistake. Casey Mears, suffering from the flu before the race even started, sounded exhausted on the radio by the two-thirds mark. But at the end of the night, there’s a reason some races are 500 miles – because physical difficulty should be a factor. If anything, the sport needs more races that make everyone step it up a notch.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Keselowski took his first pole of the season and, for the early part of the race, nobody could touch the No. 2, as he dominated, leading 196 laps. However, he got outjumped on the final restart and had to settle for second. If he had a nickel for the races he should have won this year, he could probably buy a cup of coffee to drown his sorrows.

Kevin Harvick won last year, when the Darlington race was held in May, and he certainly tried to repeat, driving his car to the limit in the closing laps, getting dangerously loose in the process. In the end, a less-than-stellar restart cost him a shot at the win, but he turned in another top five (fifth) in his mind-numbingly consistent season, where through 25 races he’s finished in the top five 18 times, and failed to make the top 10 just three.

When… did it all go sideways?

The race featured a record number of cautions as drivers quickly learned that the low downforce package made it awfully easy to lose a racecar. Out of 18 caution flags, 16 flew for accidents. Notably absent: debris cautions, except for those for legitimate concerns after cars bounced off one another or brushed the wall. So, while there were too many wrecks for my taste, at least the cautions were authentic, and, on the flip side, NASCAR wasn’t too quick to throw a yellow for minor contact with the wall (Darlington stripes abounded). In other words, the race played out naturally, as it should have, and that in itself was a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t perfect – clean air was still too important, and fewer crashes would have been ideal – but it was close.

Why… did Edwards win the race?

Edwards had a great car when it really counted and he made the most of the final pit stop when his crew got him out first, pulling away from Keselowski and Harvick and holding off teammate Denny Hamlin at the same time. Battling back from an early flat tire which cost him a lap in the pits, Edwards moved steadily forward until he could force everyone’s hand when it mattered most. Joe Gibbs Racing is on a roll these days, and if the competition isn’t laying low until the Chase, it could be a runaway.

How… did the little guys do?

The Three Best

Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr.: Truex may not have had a winning car on Sunday night, but he logged another top-10 result, finishing ninth. The consistency Truex has shown this year will make him a threat in the Chase, not just to make the final four, but to actually win it. The last time a single-car team won the title was more than 20 years ago, when Alan Kulwicki took the 1992 championship.

Hillman Racing; Landon Cassill: Is Cassill the most underrated driver in the series? He just might be, and he showed it on Sunday, running among the best small teams all night and often among some considerably bigger ones. Cassill scored his third top 20 of 2015 at one of the series’ most demanding tracks. The team’s motto is “Constant Growth,” and its dedication to that was on display all night long.

JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger needed a strong performance at Darlington and came up with a solid one. This team is capable of more, but Lady luck has not been on its side this year. Sunday night, Allmendinger was a bit of his own worst enemy, tangling with a few other drivers and not making many friends, but ultimately taking a 23rd-place check to the bank and gaining two spots in the points.

All the Rest

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing Furniture Row Chevy 7th 9th
Strong car; not quite enough to challenge for the win, but consistency may pay off in Chase
-2 6th
40 Landon Cassill Hillman-Smith Motorsports Snap Fitness Chevy 31st 20th
Solid run – smart, strong race from start to finish; ran inside top 10 at one point
+11 N/A
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger/House-Autry Chevy 34th 23rd
Reported 10 out of 10 tight early; tangled with Justin Allgaier but both saved it; got into Allgaier again as well as Sam Hornish Jr., a bit of a wrecking ball; also penalized for jumping a restart
+11 21st
7 Alex Bowman Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy 35th 24th
Slapped wall about lap 90; unscheduled stop; tangled with Josh Wise; solid finish at end of the day
+11 33rd
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Cosmo Motors Toyota 25th 25th
Good qualifying effort; continues to be the best BK team with a solid race
38 David Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 38th 27th
Reported loose early; fought handling all race
+11 32nd
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 32nd 29th
Mears was battling flu all day; handling “terrible” early, tight then loose; Gear issue under 30 to go cost him two laps
+3 22nd
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Snap-On Tools Ford 9th 30th
Slapped wall lap 94, heavy damage
-21 N/A
23 Jeb Burton BK Racing Estes Toyota 41st 31st
Making race was a step in the right direction; spin with 10 to go
+10 39th
33 Mike Bliss Circle Sport Little Joe’s Autos Chevy 42nd 32nd
Into wall lap 137
+10 N/A
51 Justin Allgaier HScott Motorsports Brandt Chevy 27th 33rd
Tangled with Allmendinger early and for a second time mid-race, a good bit of damage as result
-6 30th
26 JJ Yeley BK Racing Beds For Kids Toyota 36th 34th
Narrowly avoided lap 6 crash; not so lucky on lap 125, tangled with Michael Annett
+2 N/A
34 Brett Moffitt Front Row Motorsports Dockside Logistics Ford 40th 36th
Involved in lap 7 crash; made repairs but fought loose car rest of the night
+4 34th
98 TJ Bell Premium Motorsports Chevy 43rd 37th
Went to garage for repairs after tangling with Bowman;
+6 47th
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 39th 39th
Spun on his own; tangled with Yeley on lap 125, extensive damage
35 Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Speed Stick Ford 37th 43rd
Involved in lap 7 crash-heavy damage hit inside wall
-6 31st
30 Travis Kvapil The Motorsports Group Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy DNQ N/A
32 Josh Wise GO FAS Racing Corvetteparts.net/Beerfrost.com Ford DNQ 37th
62 Timmy Hill Premium Motorsports Champion Machinery Chevy DNQ N/A


About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Why did Carl win the race”, he can thank Jeb Burton. Jeb needs to stick to trucks, he is in way over his head in Cup. A back marker is very aggravating, when they effectively manipulating the outcome of a race. Yes I know some will say “that’s racing”…..whatever. It happens way too much when it really counts, imo at that level. Jeb has been a factor and not in a good way many times this season.

A Toyota with seemingly distain and indifference for not participating somehow in the wonderful retro weekend regardless of the lame ass sponsor..seems…well wrong. And 15 laps led at that..insulting. Imo of course.

Great weekend, even though I retained several times a huge headache as they kept repeating the “throw back weekend” and “retro schemes” to the point it almost put you in a looney bin. I swear they think most fans are stupid or get paid by the amount of times they say something stupid. Hats off to all who participated and made it great. Major effort by those who participated..and shame on Jeff’s sponsor…he would have been perfect for it!


I was actually waiting for a car that shouldn’t be in the race to cause a caution at the end. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, especially after a long run when one of their tires blows. Brian should learn about quality over quantity.


I would argue that the need for the last caution was borderline. The car that spun was quickly righted and well off the racing surface. Unfortunately, it robbed us of a finish that could have rivaled 2003.


Yes indeed..we were robbed of a finish that we deserved..not the “it was won in the pits” bull…that last caution was bull. Nascar had used restraint in the past couple of races and it was good. Seems like they wanted one of many records set this weekend, including most cautions…Cause it looks good and sets in peoples mind “a battle” (Sarcasm) Guessing what goes on in lame BZF’s head.


While last night’s race was one of the better ones this year, clean air still seemed to be king. Once you got out in front, it was “See ya”. And as much as I do not like Gibbs as a person, as he strikes me as a total phoney, if a Gibbs driver, or any Toyota driver for that matter, was to win, I would rather see Edwards or Kenseth do it. I guess that’s the old Roush fan in me speaking.

One thing about this business of Ned Jarrett winning by 14-laps. Back then, the cars were far from reliable like they are now. And if anyone ever decides to visit YouTube, they can find that 1965 race in bits and pieces. Once you get passed Cale Yarborough going over the wall, you should come across one that showed the last few laps. At about 18-laps to go, Jarrett was in second place to Darell Dieringer driving a Bud Moore Mercury. But the rear end in Dieinger’s car was burning up. Dieringer dropped out three laps later. Yes, Jarrett won by 14-laps. But, had Dieringer not lost the rear end in his Merc, the margin would have been a lot closer, and most likely on the same lap. Dieringer would come back to win it the next year though.


I didn’t realize how much I missed Ken Squire and Ned Jarrett until I heard them calling the race. They got down to business, didn’t make it about them and didn’t sound like a sponsorship machine. It was just great to hear them. Of course this presented a problem for me once Rick Allen and the gang called their segments. As much as I’ll take these guys over the Waltrips (The kings of making it all about them) I do have to say that Rick Allen sounds like a carnival barker or a used car salesman. I never really noticed until last nights race. I was telling my wife that had those guys listened to Ken and Ned they just might have learned something.


I agree Chris;

Did it seem to anyone else that the guys in the booth (especially Allen) used the world “playoffs” a ridiculous number of times? I was beginning to wonder if they got some type of bonus for using that word. I am sure the NASCAR brass is really pushing the concept of a “playoff”.


I agree Jerome. I also got very tired seeing the Chase commercials with Rutledge Wood (another guy that I’m not sure what e actual adds to the race coverage). I am so not in the mood to see the commercials describing the Chase as 16 nations, girl sitting on the edge of her seat watching a race, blah, blah, blah. I am not a “nation”, I am a race fan. Period.


Join me as a member of the Tarp Nation!


How about nap nation?

Tim S.

Maybe Tarp Nation can get a 17th-place Chase berth.


Nobody complained about the length of races when they were worth watching. Did anyone except the drivers and crews want the race to end after say 400 miles?

Carl D.

I miss hearing Ned & Benny call the races, and it was nice to hear Ned & Ken in the booth last night. It was’t perfect… Ken got driver positions wrong several times and once called Darlington Martinsville, but I’m pretty sure it was past his bedtime. I like Ken… I got to meet him once when he riding around the infield at Charlotte on a golf cart. He’s a nice guy and such an enthusiastic fan of the sport. I met Ned once too and there’s not a more gracious gentleman than him.

As a Keselowski fan I was disappointed in the outcome but certainly not the race. It wasn’t perfect but it was exciting; definitely worthy of Darlington’s reputation as the track too tough to tame.

I wonder if Ricky Stenhouse and Danica Patrick stayed up for the finish of the race.

It was nice to see the Kyle Larson from last season re-emerge last night. His car was a couple of ticks slower than a couple of the leaders, but he made the most out of it.

How interesting to hear Jeff Gordon calling out Jimmy Johnson for his move entering the pits. I wonder how Jimmy felt about it. Doesn’t Jeff know who he’s dealing with?


The only thing that was missing was running this in the day time, which would have made it truly throwback.
Now back to everything being about the Chase, the playoffs, or whatever the latest catch phrase is for the nonsense we will see and be subjected to for the next 11 weeks. Well, at least the fraction of the people who still watch or go to races compared to the pre-Chase era.

Tom B

I wondered why DW was a no show or even mentioned. He is in the HOF. Maybe it is a network policy not to say or show anyone from the opposing networks. I assume Pearson, M Petty and Fred Lorenzen have health problems.

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