Carl Edwards is all too aware of how second place feels.
In a 2011 season otherwise marked by success, Edwards had seven second-place race finishes, including, remarkably, second-place runs in the last three races of the season as he battled Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup championship.
Of course, Edwards finished second in that battle, too, losing the title to Stewart on the tiebreaker, which is seasonal wins, of which Edwards had only one.
Edwards returns to the scene of one of those second-place runs this weekend as he pursues his first victory in the Southern 500, one of NASCAR’s marquee races and an event Edwards has finished – uh – second in twice.
Edwards ran second in last year’s Southern 500 in unusual circumstances.
The pace of the race evolved to a green-white-checkered finish, and Edwards started the dash to the checkered in second place to Regan Smith, a young driver looking for his first Sprint Cup victory at the end of a long, tough night.
Odds were on Edwards’ side. He had the experience and the equipment.
But Smith got a great restart, immediately putting Edwards in a hole. Smith held the perfect line around the track for the last two laps and held off Edwards by .196 of a second to score his first career victory.
That left Edwards to wait for another year at Darlington, where he has three top fives in eight races.
“Darlington has been one of my favorite race tracks since my first trip there,” Edwards said. “It’s an intimidating place, and there is a ton of history there. A win at Darlington in the Sprint Cup Series would be one of the biggest accomplishments of my career.
“We were so close last year, which makes me even more motivated to go back there and win that trophy on Saturday. I think our program is strong right now, and I’m excited to go there.”
Two rounds of practice – at 11:30 a.m. ET and 2:15 p.m. – are scheduled at Darlington Friday. Qualifying is scheduled at 5 p.m. Race time is 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Darlington is a challenging track, and we practice in the day but race at night, so that adds another aspect to setting up the car for the race,” said Bob Osborne, Edwards’ crew chief. “We’re taking a new car to Darlington, which should be good.
“Carl loves racing at Darlington, and he came very close to winning there last year. We’re hoping to run as well as we did last year, but this time we need to finish one position higher.”
Edwards enters the race in 11th in Sprint Cup points.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.