By Aaron Burns
It just felt right for NASCAR to have a race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Labor Day weekend.
The last time the Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington in September, the series was still known as Winston Cup. Only 11 of the 43 drivers in that race also took part when the 12-year hiatus officially ended on Sunday night.
Thank goodness. Thank NASCAR, too.
Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 descended from the Rebel 400, not the original Labor Day race, which moved to Auto Club Speedway in 2004 and later to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But the same late-summer feel was in the air when Carl Edwards won a four-and-a-half-hour marathon of a race. The atmosphere made some of Darlington’s most legendary drivers harken back to their glory days at “The Lady in Black.”
Bobby Allison, a three-time Southern 500 winner and the 1983 Cup champion, believes that returning Darlington’s traditional race date was an important move for NASCAR.
“This race belongs here on Labor Day weekend,” Allison said. “I had a lot of good times here. I’m really glad to see this thing like it is.”
It was electric on Sunday.
Edwards’ drive to victory was an old-school one, using a great pit stop and smart driving to hold off Brad Keselowski at the finish.
Leonard Wood, a NASCAR Hall of Famer like Allison, believed Sunday’s race had one of the most exciting build-ups to a Darlington event in the track’s 65-year history.
It lived up to its billing. Winning the race, Edwards said, was one of the biggest highlights of his career.
Seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty said a Southern 500 win should be on any driver’s “bucket list.”
Just surviving Sunday night seemed like a victory in itself.
A significant tire falloff saw handling conditions deteriorate even on short green-flag runs. While that wasn’t ideal for drivers, it played out perfectly for the near-sellout crowd in attendance.
Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin traded the lead for much of the night.
But when it counted most, Edwards was in front.
And we had a great show on our hands.