Regan Smith wins his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race
This time there was no yellow line standing between Regan Smith and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
Smith and his crew gambled and won, using pit strategy to grab the lead and then holding off Carl Edwards in a green-white-checkered finish to score the Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team their first victory in Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Smith grabbed the lead with 11 laps to after his team elected not to pit when the rest of the field came to pit road under caution and held the top spot through as the final yellow flag came out with five laps to go to set up the overtime finish.
Brad Keselowski finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman
“I don't really know how to put it in words right now. It is so surreal right now,” said Smith.
It was Talladega in October of 2008 where Smith rocketed past Tony Stewart on the last lap to cross the finish line first for what seemed like his first win, but shortly after the checkered flag, NASCAR ruled Smith had passed Stewart below the yellow line.
Smith was penalized and moved back to 18 place, and was left spending the next few months trying to figure out how he would ever find vindication.
“I didn't know if I was ever going to get it back,” said Smith. “To get it back at Darlington, absolutely it's vindication. Winning here to me means more to me than that win could have ever meant. I don't think I'll go to bed tonight thinking about Talladega, that's for sure
“This is a lot cooler race than Talladega to win, no offense. It just goes down different and it feels different at the end of the day. It feels a lot different at the end of the day when you say 'Hey, I won a race at Darlington'. The names that have won here...the Pearsons, Yarboroughs and on and on, you name it. I was sitting behind some of those guys today and I was thinking 'Man, these guys are pretty awesome. They are legendary'. I don't know if my name deserves to be next to them, but after tonight, maybe it does."
Late in Saturday’s event, it looked like Edwards race to lose.
After trading the top spot with Kasey Kahne for much of the last half of the race. Edwards was leading when Jeff Burton’s engine let go on lap 359, which brought Edwards and most of the field to pit road.
Smith and Keselowski decided to stay out and gain track position, moving up to first and second, respectively.
It was a gamble Elliott Sadler and his team had tried, unsuccessfully, in the Nationwide Series race the night before, as Kyle Busch rocketed past on fresh tires to win the race.
On the restart with five laps to go, Smith spun the tires and looked like a sitting duck, but Keselowski checked up, holding off Edwards before finally getting up to speed. Half a lap later, Edwards darted inside of Keselowski to take second began to close in on Smith when the real fireworks began.
Running three-wide in the middle of the pack, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer made contact, sending Bowyer head-on into the inside wall. Busch and Harvick continued to make contact coming down the front stretch, with Harvick spinning and hitting the outside wall.
The incident set up a three-lap shootout with Edwards on the outside of Smith. On the restart, Smith managed to get a good jump that proved to be just enough to hold onto he lead.
Edwards closed right in on Smith’s bumper on the final lap, with everyone anticipating a bump-and-go maneuver, but Smith just managed to stay ahead of Edwards to the finish, winning by half a car-length.
“Man, I really felt like that was our race to win,” said Edwards. “We had a great lead that we earned all night and it was unfortunate we had that yellow. Regan is a heck of a guy. That’s NASCAR racing and as upset as I am to have lost that race, I’m happy for Regan and his accomplishment, but I’ll run that one back a few times in my head.”
Following the race, Harvick and Kyle Busch stopped on pit road with Harvick climbing out of his car to confront Busch.
Before he could reach Busch’s window, Busch hit the gas and pushed Harvick’s car out of the way and continued to the garage, while Harvick’s unmanned no. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet careened into the pit wall.
“When he pulled up next to me, I tried to back up. I put my car in reverse and tried to back up and I blew reverse out of the transmission,” said Busch. “My choices were limited, I was either going to get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there and try not to get hit or anything like that. I hate it that somebody could have gotten hurt, but I was just trying to get away from it and get back to my hauler and go on with my own business.”
Following the incident, both drivers and their team owners were called to the NASCAR hauler, and afterwards Harvick had little to say about what was discussed.
“I don’t have anything really to tell you other than not much,” said Harvick.
When asked if anything had been settled between the two drivers, Harvick simply said, “You saw the end.”
* Denotes Rookie
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