Posted 05/08/11 at 10:41 PM PDT by Jay W. Pennell |
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Regan Smith took the checkered flag for the second time in his career during Saturday night’s Southern 500 in Darlington, yet it was the first time he was able to go to Victory Lane.
Looking as if he scored the win in the October 2008 Talladega race, Smith was instead penalized and his first career win was taken away. Saturday night, in one of the most prestigious races in all of NASCAR, there was no doubt the 27-year-old driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet belonged in the winner’s circle.
Running a solid race all night long, Smith was able to hold off a hard-charging Carl Edwards to score the win in the oldest 500-mile event in NASCAR history. Taking the checkered, Smith joined the likes of Johnny Mantz, Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and others.
"This is a lot cooler race than Talladega to win, no offense,” Smith said.
“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.
“Legends win this race,” he said. “I'm not supposed to win this race. I've never even had a top five. I guess that shows in this series, anybody can win on any given Sunday.”
Driving for Furniture Row Motorsports, Smith is part of a single-car organization the capitalizes on an amalgamation of efforts from teams such as Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Based out of Colorado, FRM is truly one of the biggest underdog success stories to emerge in the past few years.
“I'll be honest with you. When I walked to the car today, I literally thought we could win the race,” Smith said. “I think that every week when we walk to the car. The difference was this week, we did.”
While Smith was battling for his first career victory, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were busy trying to steal the spotlight.
As Smith led the field to the green with five laps to go, the racing heated up in the back of the pack. When Harvick and Busch swapped spots coming off Turn 2, the pair made contact down the backstretch. Going through the third corner coming to two laps to go, Clint Bowyer looked to take advantage on the low side. Making it three-wide off the corner, the trio of cars ran out of room and Bowyer caught the short end of the stick.
Hitting the left side of his teammate’s car, Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevrolet shot to the inside, making hard contact with the inside wall. With Bowyer wrecking behind them, Busch drove down into the right side of Harvick and sent him hard into the outside wall – well after the Bowyer incident had occurred and the caution had flown. With the caution waving behind them, Busch took it upon himself to eliminate Harvick from contention.
“The 33 (Bowyer) put us three wide and the 18 (Busch) hooked me,” Harvick said after the incident.
Crew chief Gil Martin was quick to chime in saying, “We’re going to hook the 18 some other time. He can just be ready for it.”
As Smith celebrated his first career win in one of the sport’s most prestigious races, Busch and Harvick were doing their best to divert all of the attention. Neither one of them standing in Victory Lane despite strong cars, the two resorted to frustration and public humiliation as their post-race tirade looked like something more off the local short track than the sport’s highest stage.
Following the finish, Busch drove back onto the racing surface instead of onto pit road, as Harvick followed his every move. Sitting side-by-side momentarily, Busch then put his car in reverse before looping it around and heading to pit road. Harvick watched his rival’s move and was quick to lead him down the trek back to the garage.
Instead of making his way to the hauler, Harvick stopped the No. 29 with Busch tucked up under him. Unhooking the belts, it was clear Harvick’s next move was to exit the car and confront Busch about what had occurred on the track. Instead of doing the same, Busch drove through Harvick’s car as the driver of the No. 29 took a swing at Busch through the window net. With crew members running towards the incident and Harvick recovering from a failed punch, the driverless No. 29 hit the inside wall as Busch drove away. All while fireworks blast overhead.
The late-race and post-race confrontation led to a tense garage area with crew members from both teams pushing, shoving and standing up for their driver. Meeting inside the NASCAR hauler, neither driver had many revelations once they emerged.
Both known for their hot tempers, Harvick smiled and lived up to his nickname ‘Happy’ as he laughed the situation off to another day, saying, “You saw the end.”
On the other hand, Busch claimed a parts failure, combined with a want to rid himself of a potentially volatile situation, led to the post-race incident on pit road that led to a wrecked No. 29 car.
“I knew that wasn’t going to be a good situation and when I saw him getting out of his car, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good situation,” Busch said. “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 made a judgment call there and it wasn’t one of the best choices that I had, but I pushed his car out of the way on pit road and unfortunately there was men walking down pit road. 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.”
While Busch may have wanted to go on with his own business, it seems NASCAR’s ‘Have at it, boys’ policy is once again being put to the test. Last week it was clear Juan Pablo Montoya retaliated against Ryan Newman for an incident early in the race. This weekend they met with NASCAR and stories spread of Newman punching Montoya during the closed door meeting. Saturday night in Darlington, Busch did little to conceal the fact he drove through another competitor’s unmanned car. Perhaps he was simply trying to avoid a physical confrontation, perhaps it was more malicious, either way, it seems Busch and Harvick crossed the ‘have at it’ line.
Regardless of the post-race tirades of Busch and Harvick, Smith was busy soaking up Victory Lane and all of the benefits that come along with winning a Sprint Cup Series race.
One of the most humble drivers in the garage, Smith explained, “I can honestly tell you I don't have an idea what happened behind me, except Carl Edwards didn't pass me, some of the other details on the restart with Brad (Keselowski) and stuff like that, I have no clue what happened in the race other than us winning. You know what, if that's what's talked about next week, so be it. I don't care. It's not going to take away from the feeling I've got right now.”