Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Southern 500

Who’s in the headline – While Carl Edwards’s name appears in the headlines, it is his pit crew that deserves the accolades. The new aero package provided some great racing and passing opportunities, but the race came down to an eight-lap dash for the cash. Fresh tires were good enough for 15–20 laps, so whoever made it off pit road first or second and then grabbed the lead on the final restart was going to win the race. The No. 19 pit crew ripped off a stop that vaulted their driver from third to first and ultimately put him in the position to win the race.

What happened – NASCAR put its low-downforce package on display for the second time this season, and it afforded drivers the opportunity to make a difference over and above the car and pit crew. Brad Keselowski started on the pole and led the most laps by far at 196, and 11 different drivers led the race and nine lead changes occurred with on-track passes for the lead. The leaders had an advantage for certain, but a better car could run down and pass the leader given the proper amount of time and opportunity. In the end, the Joe Gibbs Racing pit crews out-performed the rest of the garage on the money stop and put their drivers in position to win the race. Edwards beat Keselowski and Denny Hamlin to score his first Southern 500 victory.

Why you should care – Drivers and fans have been screaming for years that the racecars are far too aero-dependent and equally as easy to drive, making it rare to see a car spin by itself as a direct result of how much these cars are glued to the racetrack. There were 18 caution flags on Saturday night, which was a new record for the Southern 500, and all but two of them were for incidents involving cars and not debris cautions. This package, while far from perfect, was a great step in the right direction and hopefully a sign of things to come for the sport in 2016.

What your friends are talking about – It is all about the aero package. There was racing all over the track, people were spinning unprovoked and nine times during the race, a car caught and passed the leader during a green-flag run. Tires wore out and drivers made a difference through saving their equipment or putting it on the edge. It may be far from perfect because the aero advantage of the leader is still a little too much, and the tires don’t fail as routinely as they should when pushed too hard, but it was a vast improvement over the earlier package for 2015. From the sound of Steve O’Donnell’s comments after the race it is absolutely the direction that NASCAR is heading for next season.

This week will be loaded with the hype about people making the Chase and people missing the cut. As the series heads to Richmond, the bubble line is drawn below Clint Bowyer, who leads Aric Almirola for the final Chase spot by 29 points. Kasey Kahne is the only other driver who can potentially point his way into the Chase that is not currently in, 31 markers behind Bowyer. None of the drivers in on points has locked their position. Jamie McMurray is 44 ahead of the cut-off line, which means it will take a cataclysmic collapse for him to not make it. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Paul Menard are currently in and need to hold serve in order to make the playoffs. Look forward to an entire pre-race show loaded with ifs and buts to explain every possible scenario for everyone to make the Chase. In the end, it is still about win and be in.

In case you were worried about it, Kyle Busch cannot fall out of the top 30 at Richmond, so he is locked into the Chase.

The Silly Season rumor mill is abuzz with the speculation over the future of David Ragan and Bowyer. The word around the garage is that Bowyer is going to HScott Motorsports for a year and then heading to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2017. HScott is denying the rumor and says they are working hard to bring Justin Allgaier back to the team with Michael Annett, who is already on board for next season.

Tony Stewart‘s attorneys have submitted the list of witnesses they intend to call in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the Kevin Ward Jr. family. It includes five different individuals connected with Ontario County, N.Y. There are also eye witnesses and others whose testimony should be pertinent to the case.

There was quite a bit of buzz in the infield at Darlington about flags. While some folks believed it was targeted at the Confederate flag, people purported to be from NASCAR were going through the infield before the races and telling people they had to lower all flags while the racing was on television. It was based on obstructing sight lines for fans on the front straight trying to see the cars on the back straight. None of the fans Frontstretch spoke to said there was ever any threat or discussion of ramifications. During the Southern 500 there were still flags on haulers in the garage and on the pit boxes on pit lane, along with the flag pole in Victory Lane. It would seem like a prime situation for a civil liberties lawyer.

Who is mad Kevin Harvick was apparently mad after the race. He parked his car on pit lane and immediately bolted without commenting to any of the assembled media. There was a three sentence, generic comment that was put out by Chevrolet that said the car was great and he just got behind on the last restart. It seems that, with the Chase on the horizon, the number of second-place finishes versus the few wins he has might be starting to wear on him.

Jimmie Johnson spun early in the race but was back in contention shortly thereafter, thanks to a competitive car. Unfortunately for Johnson, as the event wound down, he was out of tires and dropped through the field like a stone when the money was on the line. The No. 48 looked poised to be making that customary late-season run to playoffs but this year seems different. The team is making mistakes that are not typical for them and strategy calls are backfiring. Johnson has to be a little concerned that the team is only hitting on about six cylinders when its time to be firing on all eight.

Kurt Busch was in the top three for most of the night and was looking to finally put a Southern 500 trophy on his mantle. As the race wound down Busch felt his car was capable of winning the race and was working to put himself into the mix with under 50 laps to go. Unfortunately he was heading into turn 3 on the first lap after a restart, and Martin Truex Jr. got into his back bumper and spun Busch out. The 2004 champion had to start shotgun on the field and methodically moved his way through the field, but could only manage a sixth-place finish. Like Harvick, Busch has been in the mix in many of the races this season but events have conspired against him. If the stars finally align you can expect Busch and his No. 41 team to be in the mix at Homestead.

Who is happy – Normally, the winner doesn’t end up in this category but after Saturday night, we’ll make an exception for Edwards. The eventual race winner started 13th and worked into the top 10 early. During the third caution of the event, Darian Grubb made the call to stay out and Edwards conducted a ‘no tire’ experiment in front of the world. He failed, dropped like a rock and eventually had to pit for a flat tire that put him two laps down. Edwards languished in the 30s for almost 200 laps before he got back onto the lead lap and began to get back into the mix. From there it was a steady climb toward the front, and Edwards came into the pits in the third spot when the final caution of the night flew. A lightning fast stop put Edwards in the top spot and he held onto the lead on the final restart to claim his first Southern 500 win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be a long way from having a competitive car when he hit the track for the first practice on Friday. The team made slow gains throughout the sessions but he was still quite far off from the front runners when testing ended on Friday. Once the flag dropped on Sunday night the No. 88 began moving forward. Earnhardt got into the teens by lap 40 and worked into the top five before coming home with an eighth-place finish. Ending the night as the top Hendrick car is a small consolation prize for the team, but a third consecutive top-10 run at Darlington is a stepping stone toward a run at the championship.

Stewart has been a fixture in the mad category this season, so a chance to put him in the happy section cannot be passed up. Stewart started 17th and ended up 15th but, in the middle, he led the race, competed with the eventual race winners and generally looked much more like the Stewart that everyone wants to see on the track.

When the checkered flag flew:

Edwards joins the exclusive group of drivers who have 25 victories in the Cup series on his resume. It took Edwards 398 starts to reach the milestone. The win puts Edwards in a tie for 28th on the all-time wins list with his JGR teammate Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr., Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly. This win is Edwards’s first career victory at Darlington Raceway and second of 2015.

Keselowski led a race-high 196 laps to earn the extra bonus point for most laps led. His second-place finish is his fourth of the 2015 season and fifth top-two run of the year. It was Keselowski’s best career finish at Darlington. The runner-up finish for Keselowski is his 14th all-time, which puts him alone in 53rd on the list.

Hamlin came home in third place for the fifth time in 10 career starts at Darlington. It was Hamlin’s fifth podium finish of the season and second in a row. He has 72 career top-three runs, which is tied for 34th all-time with Weatherly.

Matt DiBenedetto came home in 25th to win the Rookie of the Race.

Harvick, Joey Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. With one race left before the Chase, all of the race winners are locked into the Chase, assuming they attempt to run Richmond or receive an exemption should they miss the event.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 24 races without wins and their standing in points:

10) Jamie McMurray

11) Ryan Newman

13) Jeff Gordon

14) Paul Menard

15) Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $8,595,836 in 25 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,986,541.

In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,705,744 for the winners and $314,984 for last place in 23 races.

After 14 Truck races, the winner has $723,941 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $136,682.

What is in the cooler – The Southern 500 was on the verge of receiving a full six-pack as the action wound toward the final 10 laps with Harvick making a run toward Keselowski. Unfortunately the caution flew as Jeb Burton spun off the track in turns 1 and 2. The resulting eight-lap run to the checkered was not long enough for the tires to fall off sufficiently and Edwards took advantage to run away for the win. In the end, it was still a tremendous weekend with very competitive racing that saw cars able to run down the leader and pass them. As a result it receives five ice-cold Rooster Red Ales from Southern Hops Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The final race of the regular season rolls off Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. The final five slots in the Chase will be known when the checkered flag flies after 400 miles. The racing action can be seen on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. ET. It can also be heard on MRN affiliates or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Great race. I do question the last caution though

Capt Spaulding

Thought the same thing as well…….It took the pressure off NASCAR Race Control trying to find some debris, and changed what could of been a great finish on used tires, into a crapshoot with pitstop and restart.


Saw that last caution on somebodies rerun show today. Think I could have respected a debris caution more.


that last caution was kind of eh, it was shaping up to be a good mix between Harv, Kes and Carl. Harv’s team gave it away on pit road all night, suspect he’s unhappy as a result of that – i don’t blame him for parking his car and walking off, after a race like that, long, enduring, challenging for the win with 12 to go, not surprising.

I hope they go with this package next season – and tires that give – that’s also the key, tires that fall off will continue to make racing challenging. I don’t need 18 cautions, but the leader constantly having the work to stay in front, and over driving your car resulting in potentially a huge mistake is what it should be.

Last nights race was great (even if the 4 didn’t win)

Bill B

Very entertaining race. Hard to say how much the new package worked since there were a record number of cautions which was the same case as when they ran at Kentucky. I think the new package is working better but any package would look good if there were a record number of cautions at every race (bunching them back up and having restarts and pit stops creating the excitement). I would have loved a few long green flag runs to really gauge the new package.

Not picking on Carl (he’s just this week’s example), but I have to point out that thanks to wave arounds and lucky dogs, once again everyone stays on the lead lap and nothing that happens in the first half of the race matters. As a result he was able to come back to win after being gifted two free laps.


My friend all in race manipulation (questionable cautions leading to contrived double file restarts, lucky dog, wave arounds) moves NASCAR closer and closer to the straight fix. The “winner” of this race had no business on the lead lap let alone Victory Lane. The rasslin model constantly leaves me wondering what chicanery NASCAR will pull if there is an unapproved leader in turn three as the laps wind down.

Bill B

Happily, I will no longer care once Gordon retires because I refuse to pick another driver. Yeah, as they inch closer to that “rasslin line”, more and more sports fans will abandon it, however they may increase viewership as they appeal to the reality television audience. All they need to do is give drivers incentives to trash talk and take cheap shots and they have the makings of a pretty good reality tv show. Of course they will need more women drivers to really break into that market. And maybe some love triangles between the drivers (gotta have sex in there to reach those really big demographic numbers).


bill – you making it more of a soap opera. there have been female drivers (shawna robinson) who had her share of encounters with males in the sport.

Bill B

Yeah, but to really get that “reality show” vibe going you need more sexual situations and one female in the script just isn’t enough. :)


didn’t someone once float the idea of a “real housewives of NASCAR” program?


They did and a few vain ones (you know who the wives are..lined up).

I remember Dale Jr. reamed Shawna Robinson, and was not nice in calling her out on national Tv..nobody got on him or gave him a hard time. Of course it’s Dale’s son and the crazies think it is Sr. With Danica you are supposed to bow and throw rose petals in front of her, regardless of what bonehead move she did and keep singing her praises. Maybe she should be the Cupper who goes to Xfinity instead of posting yoga poses..lord knows she needs the practice. God, I am mad at that bakery for giving us another year of her..and I hear SHR is looking for more sponsorship… :(

Cool you went to the race Gina.


kb, you really need to let go of your issues with Danica. You seem to have some major issues with her that aren’t healthy. Its bordering on obsession since you bring her up every week even when she isn’t presented in the article. Makes you wonder if its just her or women in general in Nascar that you have a problem with. Maybe after she got divorced you thought you had a chance with her and are upset because she chose Ricky. Regardless, let it go man.


Steve, you are not too bright, I am a woman. If think what I write is an obsession, well I feel sorry for ya. Life must be very stressful for you. Please provide me proof I bring her up every week..I don’t think so..but when there is a discussion of this untalented driver in Cup, I do chime in, as many do. This, as a women and I speak for many (as we do converse in person as race fans); she is offensive and greatly so, despite what her marketers and SHR with zero brains tell us. Now I will wait for your reply, the usual is when you state you are a woman, you are automatically jealous. Sorry Stevie, not the case at all. This particular time in case you can’t follow along is the thread was about female drivers and and someone mentioned Shawna R. I added my two cents as to how brutal her fellow competitors were to her and in the present day Sparkle Pony is awarded exalted status for doing nothing but being a moving hazard. Nah, never mind..way above your head.


The 24 Hours of Darlington! My DVR dozed off after the 16th caution so I didn’t see the end. I wasn’t that disappointed though, just too much dead time.


Think I made it to about 120 laps to go or so. Somehow I don’t find the incessant caution flags for single car spins that hit nothing very exciting. But hey I did wake up to see the guy who was the beneficiary of all those caution flags win.


i’m glad i caught the jarretts and squirer. i was disappointed that even they mentioned the chase. i don’t know race was ok, but seemed long. i guess all the cautions kept stretching the time out. i fell asleep and when i saw edwards had won, i scratched my head cause i thought he was a lap or two down. then i remembered, lucky dogs.

oh the hype for richmond. i wonder if dale jr will even make it to round 3 of the playoff deal. seems his goal is just make the chase and then he checks out mentally.


isn’t dw a hof member? notice he was visibly absent from the pre-race deal. thought that was odd, but then wondered if his contract with fox had anything to do with this.


Great race, but bittersweet since I was supposed to be there, but my gallbladder had other plans. A wreckfest, but better than a 3.5 hour parade. Keep taking the downforce away. On the comment about the flags, there will be no civil liberties lawsuits, NASCAR and ISC are private corporations. The First Amendment doesn’t apply to them. If they did that, good job.


All you Danica haters can shut up now about Nascar favoring her. She hit the wall and it took them at least 2 laps to throw the caution. Blaney spins and hits nothing with 10 to go and they couldn’t throw the yellow fast enough.

I see ole 6 time still hasn’t learned how to save his tires. This is why Nascar will not go to the new package for the Chase. It would put that 48 group at a disadvantage because their driver only knows one way to drive. It was pretty obvious that there were other drivers that were having the same problems with tire conservation, but none of them are 6 time 10 race champs. Of course that late yellow bailed everyone out so the driver that conserved their tires the best were not rewarded in the end.

At least this race had some semblance to races of the past and drivers actually had to drive the cars. Despite Johnson’s issues I hope they use this package the rest of the season, but I doubt it.

Bill B

Yep, and when they didn’t she made sure she drove back onto the track to spew as much crap as possible so that they would throw the caution.

Let me be clear here, she isn’t the first to do this so I am not picking on her, but when someone does that it should be a 5 lap penalty. That would end that selfish practice.

Overall, NASCAR has been way to quick to throw caution flags for single car spins this year (I guess it’s their way of trying to limit fake debris cautions, since fans have had enough of those).


Bill regarding the whole practice, I agree with you. At our local short track, when someone spins out of danger to other cars and no attempt is made to get going again, they wait at least 2 laps before throwing the yellow to prevent this sort of thing. That would be a problem for nascar because they wouldn’t be able to help the chosen ones in that situation.

Nascar badly wanted an exciting finish Sunday night given the races hype and retro theme, and I’m sure Brian was hoping for that Game 7 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch moment and got their gift when Blaney spun. That saved them from manufacturing a yellow themselves. It was a little too obvious though considering the yellow was out before Blaney even stopped spinning.


Amen to that. I was sitting there, going what? and then oh brother, well NASCAR needed that to happen for their exciting finish.


the annoying part is – they HAD the exciting finish. I was on the edge of my seat – does Harv have enough to pass Kes – did Kes save tires? Is Carl going to best them both by driving in deep and seeing if it sticks… it had the makings of a great finish – like the end of Bristol 2 weeks earlier.


Had a great time at the track Sunday night. Not Darlington but Jefferson, WI speedway demolition destruction #3. Enjoyed watching the guy fly through a Winnebago into the swimming pool. Fireworks were cool too. Think I’ll be going back for the modifieds and late models next weekend.


We went to the race at Darlington on Saturday night. Pretty decent crowd and it was an interesting race. I would have really enjoyed it had Gordon’s pit crew not had another failure to launch and screwed up the last pit stop. I honestly thought he would have a top 10 finish — not a win but it would have been decent, but nope, it was not to be.

Upstate24fan, sorry to hear about your gallbladder. I’ve been there and done that — when I traveled to a race at Charlotte that I never got to see. Not fun. Hope you are feeling better.

There were so many cautions and I thought that some of the cars (including Danica) coming back onto the track and spewing debris everywhere was really stupid. The race was really long and I think there should be penalties for the teams coming back out when the car is too wrecked to run.


…And may I add Steve, the obsession seems to be yours. Fanboys are silly like that..blaming others for what they are. Tsk..Tsk. SMH.


ok kb. I will bite. Yes you do have an obsession. I read your drivel every week and you can’t help but take a shot at her any time she is mentioned if you don’t mention her first. Its quite laughable that you haters all complain that she is talked about all the time, but yet you bring her up every week almost, calling her Sparkle Pony and making sure everyone knows where she finishes every week. Honestly, let it go. Its childish.

She isn’t going anywhere. She is an inspiration to young female race car drivers, and she is a money maker for Nascar whether you like it or not.

And honestly, I could care less whether you are male or female, but your obsession with her made me assume that you are male. And since you are female, maybe you should support her, since so many before her have been blackballed in Nascar for simply being female.

And calling me Stevie and a fanboy is cute though. I will take them as a compliment although you need some new material


Well thanks for biting Stevie…I haven’t been back to this thread. Again I ask..where is the “obsession and proof? I will call her Sparkle Pony any damn time I like. Again please provide me with proof with obsession you claim I have? Every week, stop your lying. Please prove where she is mentioned by my posts every week? You can’t because I don’t. Stop it Stevie..you are lying. Making you a very fake poster, the likes of which this website seems not to have. I support talent based on merit. I don’t care if you are blue, green, male or female. Talent is what matters…as it should be, but isn’t. I laugh at the hype that with simple minds is turned into fact. Not so. Her gender should not be an issue but is, as a women I take offense to that. Sorry you can’t comprehend. She does us no favors, believe me.


Oh Stevie, I just caught you in another lie. You said I made sure everybody knows where she finished every week! How can I when I don’t know or care? Stevie you are a liar. Shame on you. Slandering me is not good. Again, I might need evidence that I mention her “every week”. Maybe this website can help YOU OUT with my past posts…they can ask for my permsssion if need be. She is about exciting to me as a pimple on my okele, but when certain things come up, I join it.


…and please provide numbers that have her “a moneymaker”, other than the check a sponsor writes to SHR or merchandise sales you cannot know, and will never know. I do not see a uptick in seat sales, do you?

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