In October 2008 Regan Smith took the checkered flag at Talladega for his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Or so he thought? Within minutes of his ‘win’ NASCAR officials decided Smith has gained an advantage passing Tony Stewart below the yellow line separating the track from the apron and he was stripped of his victory.
On Saturday night there was no such doubt. In a two lap dash during a green-white-checker finish at Darlington Raceway, and with a sizeable push from Brad Keselowski as the green flag was waved, Smith fought off a strong challenge from Carl Edwards to finally win his first race in the top league of NASCAR Racing. It was the first win too for car owner, Barney Visser, and the little Furniture Row team from Denver, Colorado.
It was a win born from the brave strategy of crew chief, Peter Rondeau, who told Smith to stay out when all the cars ahead of him pitted after a caution on lap 359 for oil on the track. When the green was shown there was supposed to be five laps of racing left with all the drivers who pitted running on new tyres against Smith – along with Keselowski and Stewart – racing on their worn rubber.
But – with just two laps to go – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer tried to run three abreast on the front stretch and it just didn’t work with Bowyer hitting the inside wall hard. Busch and Harvick then went on to have further problems, of which more anon, so there was another caution which set up the green-white-checker finish, taking the race over distance.
Edwards, who became a father for the second time when his son, Michael, was born on Wednesday, had spotted Smith spinning his tyres on the previous restart and set himself up to take advantage when the driver of the no.78 did it again. Smith was not playing off the same script, however, and failed to spin the tyres so got a far better start, especially when Keselowski decided to give him a hefty push down to turn one. Such was Smith’s speed on the last lap that he hit the wall coming out of turn two but there was no way he was going to lift off.
After the race Edwards said there were six things he thought he could have done differently and would do them differently as he replayed the race in his mind and was so, so disappointed not to win but nevertheless was most gracious in his praise and congratulations to Smith. In fact, it was a popular win among the majority of drivers.
Two that didn’t have time to offer their congratulations were Busch and Harvick. After their coming together which spun Bowyer out of the race Busch then spun Harvick. As the cars came into pit lane after the checkered flag Harvick was clearly waiting for his adversary and not best pleased. Eventually the cars came to a halt and Harvick got out of his and marched back to the no. 18 Toyota. Busch was in no mood for a confrontation and started to drive away as the enraged Harvick lunged at him, appearing to throw a punch. In his haste to get away Busch nudged Harvick’s car across the pitlane and in to the wall.
As happens on these occasions the two teams happened to be using adjacent spots in the garage. The anger spilled over as the two crews started to push and shove each other until NASCAR officials intervened. Both drivers plus their team bosses were directed to the NASCAR hauler in an attempt to defuse the situation. Was it successful? Asked what he had to say after the official showdown all Harvick would say was, “Not much!”
It was not a good night to be a pit crew member – Paul Menard attempted to leave his pit stall whilst one of his crew members was taking tape off his radiator grille, pushing the helpless man along the track for several yards and Jeff Gordon decided to leave his pit whilst the fuel can man was still doing his job which resulted in that fellow bouncing along pit lane.
Behind Edwards and Keselowski at the finish were Kasey Kahne, who led most laps on the night, 124, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr. whose tenth place seemed to vindicate his crew change during the week and end his torrid run of luck.
Two drivers who seem unable to shake off their bad luck are Brian Vickers and Joey Logano, both of whom were wrecked through no fault of their own. They finished the night in 34th and 35th places respectively.
The top five in the championship table, Edwards, Jimmie Johnson – who spun twice in the race – Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Harvick all hold their places, although Edwards has extended his lead. Regan Smith is back in 27th place and his win will do nothing to gain him a wild card entry into The Chase until he claws his way into the top twenty.
Last word on the race has to belong to Smith who said in victory lane, “I’m not supposed to win this race – I’ve not even had a top five. I guess it goes to show in this series anyone can win on any given Sunday.” We’ll overlook that this race was actually on a Saturday – his sentiment was spot on.