Regan Smith: “Bump and Run” Victory at Mid-Ohio Valid

A jubilant Regan Smith celebrates a victory that has been elusive.

A jubilant Regan Smith celebrates a victory that has been elusive.

Watching the finish of Wednesday’s UNOH 200 race at Bristol, I was struck once more by the upcoming young crop of talent in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series. Aside from Kyle Busch finishing second, the average age of the top six finishers was 20 years. Brandon Jones, who finished fifth, was congratulated for completing high school ahead of schedule during his post-race interview.

Then, I linked this budding fountain of youth to Regan Smith, driver of the #7 JR Motorsports ride, now fourth in the Xfinity Series Championship standings, 51 points out from leader Chris Buescher (another young gun destined for Sprint Cup duty next year). Last Saturday, Smith secured his first NASCAR Xfinity victory of the season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.

Regan Smith is now 31 years old. He had his shot at the Sprint Cup Series level before, and has made no secret of his desire to get back to that level of competition.

To further that ambition, Smith has grabbed any opportunity he can to stand-in whenever teams need a driver, being dubbed the “super sub” by filling in for Sprint Cup Series regulars since 2012, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and, earlier this year, for the suspended Kurt Busch for three races.

Tailgate should have remembered this was a NASCAR race, not open wheel.

Tailgate should have remembered this was a NASCAR race, not open wheel.

Smith has taken some grief for whether his last lap move in the Mid-Ohio Carousel was “clean” or not. After the race, Smith stated, “I hated doing that in the last corner, but it has been a year and eight months (since a victory). I wasn’t going to pass an opportunity up. I have been wrecked so many times on these road courses, I had to do what I had to do right there.”

Tagliani himself expressed frustration stating, “He knows I’m not going to be there next weekend to retaliate, and to give him payback. It is just really unfortunate to win like that.”

Several Verizon IndyCar Series drivers took to Twitter immediately after the race, suggesting that Smith’s move was “dirty”. Most notable was Juan Pablo Montoya’s tweet: (Caution, X-rated Tweet) https://twitter.com/jpmontoya/status/632677099132846080

Lessons Learned

But should we really be surprised that Smith would make such a move to win the race? He is hungry, and the number of potential Sprint Cup driver openings with quality rides is dwindling for next year with the uprising of youth in all NASCAR series. With Smith being a regular competing for an Xfinity Championship and closing the gap in the last few laps, Tagliani should have anticipated such a move as a road course specialist better known for his open wheel experience. When competing at this level, a driver must evaluate the specific circumstances and the mindset of the competitor in pursuit, as that will dictate one’s approach during the closing laps. Moreover, with Smith having been taken out in the prior road course race at Watkins Glen, he most assuredly was ready to give some back.

NASCAR is distinguished from other racing series, with contact between cars often seen as not only a requirement for successful passing but an expectation among the fan base to deliver excitement. Road courses now only accentuate that drama. Back in 2012, when eventual victor Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch had their epic road course battle at Watkins Glen in the Sprint Cup race, all three drivers understood the stakes and had respect for the final lap shootout. Although he came up short, Keselowski congratulated both Ambrose and his crew after the race and exclaimed, “That’s the way racing should be.”

Even Montoya claimed his first NASCAR victory during an Xfinity (formerly Busch) Series road race in 2007, when he spun out his Ganassi teammate Scott Pruett who was leading the race in the final laps during the Telcel-Motorola 200. Montoya proclaimed, “I’m very sorry about what happened with Scott. I thought he saw me and when he came across I had no room to go”. No surprise that Pruett saw the outcome differently.

So, kudos to Regan Smith. He not only put himself back in championship contention, but gained notoriety and relevance for his willingness to “do what he had to do”. Even better, his victory has likely inspired his #7 team to work even harder during the remaining races for the Xfinity Championship. You can bet his team is still grinning “ear to ear” as they fervently prepare for this Friday’s night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Regan Smith, Like America, Is Powered By Coal

 

Regan Smith sits 2nd  in the Nationwide points going into this weekends Mid-Ohio Road Course.

Regan Smith sits 2nd in the Nationwide points going into this weekends Mid-Ohio Road Course.

Regan Smith races for JR Motorsports and America´s Power in the Nationwide Series. This isn´t news, but then again, this isn´t a news column.

Smith´s name, however, came back into the national spotlight last weekend as a replacement driver for Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen and when the spotlight shines, you take it.

In 2013 Regan Smith was voted as the ¨Most Popular Driver” in the Nationwide series. A desirable accolade.

Smith sits second in the Nationwide points going into this weekend´s road race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a type of racing that Regan seems to have embraced.

He has a tough fight with Elliot Sadler, who sits behind in third, but the road race gives him the opportunity to leave the famed Ohio track with a significant points gain.

So what´s special about Regan Smith and what does he have to do with the coal industry?

Smith is the modern day chronological evolution of the coal industry´s involvement in NASCAR.

Almost four decades ago L.D. Ottinger drove in NASCAR´s Late Model Series under the sponsorship of Black Diamond Coal.

Regan Smith has taken up the mantle for clean-fired coal by piloting the #7 America´s Power Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. There is a history here.

Actually, it´s more than a history, Smith has a strong family connection to the coal industry and has equally strong opinions about America´s dominant energy source, one that´s under governmental attack.

I recently had a conversation with Smith and discovered a driver willing to not only lend his name to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), but also a degree of activism.

Smith´s JR Motorsports America´s Power Nationwide Camaro.

Smith´s JR Motorsports America´s Power Nationwide Camaro.

You don´t see that in NASCAR too often these days, other than perhaps Jeff Gordon and his “Drive to End Hunger” campaign, but in a politically correct sport not many drivers are willing to attach themselves to a politically charged association.

It´s refreshing.

I didn´t realize how close the coal industry was to Regan´s family, but according to Smith: “It was (the sponsorship) a natural for me to be here. I grew up watching my Grandfather selling coal in upstate New York. I´ve been around it and basically want to help out as much as I can by making sure we spread the word as much as I can on how important it is to our Power Grid”.

Ironically, but not surprising, New York state has adopted the most draconian anti-coal regulations in the United States.

In America 19 states receive more than half of their electricity from coal-powered plants and is responsible for 40% of all electricity in the United States.

With American consumer confidence at an all-time low I posed the question to Smith as to what his America´s Power sponsorship would do to help ease the burden of worry.

He replied, “We´re making everyone realize how it directly effects them. The coal industry has to spend more money to meet these EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations and the costs will get passed down to them”. He added, “It allows us to make sure they understand what´s going to happen to the consumer as these regulations come down from the EPA. By keeping our nation´s coal plants running, we are preserving our nation´s power, which is critical to our way of life, access to affordable, reliable electricity is a must to keep our business running and the lights on.”

Smith is correct, in my opinion.

The EPA was never intended to wield this much power, however it now sits on par with the IRS and Homeland Security with an ability, unlawful in this writers opinion, to legislate through regulation.

It has become a tool of an over-reaching administration.

In July the EPA held another “Campaign” tour of field hearings in Pittsburgh, PA to wit America´s Power was both present and vocal saying: “For a proposed rule that threatens to dismantle our nation’s economy, fundamentally alter the American way of life and severely hamper U.S. energy independence and leadership, EPA’s excuse for ‘public input’ is downright pathetic.

The dis-enfranchised coal workers In Pittsburgh.

The dis-enfranchised coal workers In Pittsburgh.

While the inclusion of Pennsylvania in EPA’s public hearing tour, a state that generates 40 percent of its electricity from coal, is notable, one must wonder whether EPA will really heed the concerns voiced by those who testified, as EPA’s past regulations have devastated Pennsylvania communities with widespread job losses, depressed economic activity and rising energy costs,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at ACCCE. “We’re calling EPA’s plan for what it is: a carbon copy of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) proposal that saddles consumers with exorbitant costs and places the pursuit of political interests above the well-being of the Americans they avow to protect.”

Fittingly strong language for increasingly desperate times.

Understandably, Regan couldn´t be too political about the system breakdown that has placed America in an energy crisis, but you can certainly tell he won´t go down without a fight.

No true racing driver ever does.

That´s the attitude Smith is going to need as he goes into the Mid-Ohio road course, which is a very difficult track to obtain the rhythm needed to lay down fast but consistent laps.

This is a technical track that has off-camber turns, elevation changes, hard braking and fast sweepers. Setting up for a pass may require two laps of strategy to successfully execute.

It´s a fitting setting for Smith to grab a win, 69% of Ohio´s energy is derived from coal-fired electricity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Great Competition, NASCAR Must Still Deal With An Ongoing Problem

 Menard

Paul Menard's victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after which he and his team got to "kiss the bricks," was one of the unexpected moments of 2011 that led it to become one of the most competitive, and historical, seasons in NASCAR's history. Menard was one of five first-time winners in the past season.

The sport of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing faces a familiar problem in 2012, one that has bedeviled it for the last three years.

However, that problem is certainly not the quality of its competition. For once NASCAR didn’t have to come up with obscure facts and figures to tout itself as the most competitive form of motorsports in this country – which, incidentally, is a claim it has made repeatedly over the years.

In 2011, there can be little argument that it was, indeed. And no one has to search high and low for statistics to prove it.

Now, I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. Not only was the past season highly competitive, it was also, in many ways, historical.

All it takes to understand that is a quick look at what happened and who made it happen.

There were 18 different winners in Cup racing, which matched those in 2002 and fell just one short of the record of 19 set in 2001.

Five of those winners won for the first time in their careers, and, to make this unprecedented, four of those winners were victorious in four of the circuit’s most prestigious races at three of its most prominent speedways.

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. Regan Smith won the Southern 500. David Ragan won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400.

Not one of these drivers was considered a victory candidate in any of these races – if, indeed, in any other.

That these relatively unheralded drivers won as they did for the first time – and all in one season – has never been done before in NASCAR.

And Marcos Ambrose became the fifth first-time winner when he was victorious on the road course at Watkins Glen.

It was routinely believed that if Australian Ambrose won in NASCAR it would be on a road course. That he did so was no surprise.

That may be, but judging from response, his victory enhanced NASCAR’s international appeal – at least in one part of the world. Ambrose is a hero in his native country.

The battle for the championship was like no other in NASCAR’s history.

It came down to a two-man war between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart that wasn’t settled until after the final race of the season at Homestead.

Stewart won that race while Edwards finished second, yet another in a series of Chase races in which the two finished within a single position of each other.

The result was the first tie in points ever in NASCAR. Each had 2,403 points.

Stewart won with the tiebreaker – the most wins in a season. He had five, Edwards one.

But the championship drama goes beyond that. It wasn’t simply because Stewart won it in historically close fashion, it was also how he did so.

He started the 10-race Chase ninth in points without a single victory to his credit.

But once the “playoff” began Stewart surged like a tsunami. He won five races, rose quickly to No. 1 in points and, with four wins under his belt, was second when Homestead began, just three points in arrears to a remarkably consistent Edwards.

That set up the dramatic finish.

Stewart has to receive credit for one of the most impressive, come-from-behind runs for a title in NASCAR’s history.

Any decent statistician could put up some other numbers that would support the excellent competitiveness of the 2011 season – laps lead, most lead changes, cars running at the finish and such.

But I don’t believe they are needed. What has been presented here – and, I admit, earlier – should offer solid proof that NASCAR is in no way suffering when it comes to the quality of its competition.

Fact is, it’s thriving.

But, when it comes to being a business and not a sport, NASCAR and its teams are not thriving.

In 2008 this country, and the world, plunged into an economic disaster.

Stocks plummeted, banks failed, businesses folded, homes went into foreclosure and jobs were lost a thousand fold.

Nothing escaped, not even NASCAR. At the end of the 2008 season team members were laid off in droves. Other organizations folded. Sponsors, who suffered a loss of profits, pulled the plug on their NASCAR participation.

Sponsorship suddenly became a gift, not a given. Teams used to single-entity deals that brought in $20 million or more began to beg for limited schedule deals at reduced prices.

For those teams fortunate enough to have it, financial backing was acquired through multiple companies providing full support for 10-12 races here, 4-6 there and maybe even one or two.

And I think it is obvious that speedways suffered as well. Where they once were able to sell tickets with little difficulty, they now had to use creative public relations and marketing strategies to lure cash-strapped fans to come to their races.

It wasn’t easy. Empty grandstand seats prevailed.

I was one of many who said then that the economy was NASCAR’s biggest challenge. It remains so.

The economic malaise has not gone away. It hasn’t for the country and it hasn’t for NASCAR.

We already know of two teams that have ceased operations, both of them part of high-profile operations. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing no longer have four teams, they have three. A lack of sponsorship has caused that.

And the Roush team that features past champion driver Matt Kenseth is still searching for financial backing – as are several other organizations at one level or another.

Red Bull Racing, and its two-car operation, folded. I’ll be honest. The economy might have had something to do with that but I suspect politics might have played a larger role.

Regardless, after 2011, think of the number of racing jobs that have been lost – again.

At present NASCAR does not have as many well-funded, full-time teams now as it did at the start of 2011.

Its speedways still have to find the means to get folks to part with their dollars. After all, the joblessness rate is still high, companies continue layoffs or job elimination (including among the motorsports media), real estate values remain low and gasoline prices are volatile, among many other things.

The problems NASCAR faced after 2008 are still its major concerns as 2012 approaches.

But it is clear that, at least for one season, competition is at an all-time high. That is something that can potentially lures fans, encourage needed media attention and honestly establish NASCAR as something it has always claimed to be – the best in this country.

If what we saw in 2011 is matched, or approached, by what happens in 2012, that can only be good for NASCAR and its continuing challenge to sell itself, and its teams, to the public and corporate America amid a still struggling economy.

2011 Had Its ‘Top Moments,’ But History Was Also Made

 

Stewart

Tony Stewart's five victories in the Chase and his battle with Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup championship were considered two of the most memorable moments of the 2011 season. The championship was unprecedented as Stewart and Edwards tied in points, but Stewart won because he had more wins.

Already multiple presentations on the “top moments” of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season have been published or broadcast and, quite frankly, I’m inclined to agree with most of them.

I certainly agree with many others that Jeff Gordon’s 85th career victory at Atlanta was memorable. Gordon, the four-time champion, won three times in 2011 and is now in sole possession of third place on NASCAR’s all-time victory list.

I won’t argue with those who listed Danica Patrick’s achievement as one of the season’s best moments. Patrick finished fourth at Las Vegas in March to set the record as not only the highest finish recorded by a female driver in Nationwide Series competition, but also as tops among all females in any NASCAR national series event.

Patrick broke the long-standing mark of fifth place set in 1949 by Sara Christian in Heidelberg, Pa.

As you know, many more memorable achievements have been mentioned and I daresay all of them deserve a place on anyone’s list.

But I think I’ll go a little further. In 2011, the accomplishments of many were more than “top moments.”

Because of who they are, what they achieved and where they achieved it, all made the 2011 season unique – and even historical.

Frankly, some things happened this past season that have never happened before in NASCAR’s history.

Patrick’s accomplishment is one of them.

But there are many more. And that’s part of the reason 2011 was a unique season.

Consider Tony Stewart. That he won five races in the Chase – his only five wins of the season, by the way – to come from ninth in points to a championship in just 10 races is worthy, by itself, as a “top moment.”

But what makes it more compelling, and history making, is that Stewart won a championship battle that was unlike any other in NASCAR’s existence.

At the end of the season’s final race at Homestead Stewart and rival Carl Edwards were tied for No. 1 in points at 2,403 apiece.

That was a first in NASCAR and it meant the champ would be crowed via the tiebreaker: the driver with the most wins. That hadn’t happened before, either.

That was Stewart with five – all of them, ironically, earned in the Chase. Edwards had only one victory for the season.

The unprecedented closeness of the championship fight was even more impressive, and unique, by its very nature.

Stewart and Edwards raged mortal combat. Unlike how it has been many times in the past, neither made a mistake to give the title to the other.

They stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out. They finished within one position of each other in three of the last four races – and never out of the top 10.

It was truly a scrap for a championship and not one decided by a twist of fate.

Smith

Regan Smith (left) and Trevor Bayne were two of the four first-time winners in 2011. The others were David Ragan and Paul Menard. These drivers not only won for the first time, they won four of NASCAR's most prestigious and popular races.

Yes, Stewart’s five victories are memorable. But the very character of the 2011 championship was unlike any other in NASCAR.

First-time winners always carve a niche for themselves in any season. So it was in 2011, but with a couple of notable exceptions.

Perhaps at no other time in NASCAR were there so many first-time winners. But what makes it all so much more unique is not that they won, but where they won.
I daresay few ever heard of Trevor Bayne, the young driver under contract with Jack Roush who was lent to the Wood Brothers for selected Cup races in 2011.

At age 20 years and one day, Bayne led the final six laps to win the Daytona 500 in only his second Cup start. It was the fourth 500 victory for the Woods team and the 600th for Ford.

Bayne isn’t the first surprise Daytona winner. But, unlike so often in the past, he didn’t win because circumstances turned in his favor. He won because he was competitive and raced like a veteran.

At Furniture Row Racing, Regan Smith was thought of as one of those guys competing with a second-tier team who was most likely to run at the rear of any race.

But, as improbable as it was, Smith, who had no wins, top-fives or top-10s in 104 starts, won the venerated Southern 500 at Darlington.

He led the final 11 laps and held off Edwards by 0.198-second to win.

Many considered Paul Menard as the weakest link in the four-car chain of teams at Richard Childress Racing. Feel free to disagree, of course.

But Menard proved, nicely, that he could win. He did so for the first time in his career in the Brickyard 500 at Indianapolis. He outgunned Gordon, a four-time Indy winner, to earn the victory.

Twenty-five-year-old David Ragan earned his way to a ride with Roush and was, essentially, “under development” for a successful Cup career.

He took a huge step in that direction when he won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. Before he gained his first career victory, the best Ragan had finished was third, three times.

Five first-time winners – including Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen – would make any season memorable. But 2011 was a bit more so.

Four drivers who won – Bayne, Smith, Ragan and Menard – did so at three of NASCAR’s most prestigious venues and in four of its most distinguished and popular races, the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coke Zero 400 and the Brickyard 400.

I can heartily assure you that it’s never happened before in NASCAR.

It’s a first in a season I thought had more than its share of them.

Which means that while we all got the chance to see more “top moments” in NASCAR, we also had the opportunity to witness history being made.

That does not happen very often.

Menard’s Indy Victory Adds To Season’s Competitiveness

The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has established itself as one of the most unique in many years for a couple of reasons:

It has provided a decidedly unexpected high number of surprising, first-time winners. In so doing it has suggested that, perhaps, competition on the circuit has reached a level of equality it hasn’t had in years – or, as some might argue, ever.

When Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 (the sports books took a beating), he not only won for the first time in the 167 races of his career, he also became the fourth inaugural victor of the season and the 14th different winner in 20 races.

This year’s first-time winners include Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500, Regan Smith in the Southern 500, David Ragan in Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 at now Menard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Have you noticed that these guys have not only won races, they have also been victorious in some of NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious events?

Which, by the way, is something absolutely no one could have predicted. That adds to the season’s singularity and, to be honest, it’s made things entertaining for everyone. Most of us like surprises.

The record for most winners in a single season was tied at 19 in 2001, during which 36 races were run, the same amount for 2011.

Logic dictates that the odds are good the record will be broken given that there are 16 races yet to be run. The current season is not much past halfway over.

Unless the trend that has been established so far is disrupted we can anticipate more winners – and the odds are good none will be that much of a surprise.

After all, there are those who have won multiple times in their careers, some of whom have won championships, and yet haven’t been victorious this year.

They include Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Jamie MacMurray and others. Would anyone be truly surprised if any, or all, of them had won by now?

The point is they still have plenty of time to do so and increase the number of different winners.

Even if this season’s doesn’t provide a record it has, for some observers, indicated NASCAR is presently enjoying something for which it always sought – equal competition; the ability for virtually any driver to win a race.

Today that appears to be more truth than hype. The numbers prove it.

While this is certainly not the only reason for this, it assuredly is a major one: The so-called new car, its technology and accompanying NASCAR legislation, have been established to the point where dominance by one team over all others is unlikely.

Several crew chiefs have expressed this opinion. They have said that it might have taken a while, but the majority of teams now understand the nuances of the car. NASCAR’s cessation of repeated rule changes has helped.

Given that the car is singular, with just minor differences among manufacturers’ models (front ends and engine packages come to mind), and the same sternly enforced rules apply across the board, crew chiefs say there’s only so much teams can do.

They can push the envelope as much as they dare but creativity is long gone. NASCAR’s punishments have assured that.

If a team can utilize creativity only to a certain point it often cannot gain a sizable advantage over another. That, many suggest, is what we have now.

Make no mistake. Equal competition does not mean teams are now equal per se. That’s not the case by any means.

There are still the haves and have-nots, separated by sponsorship money and the equipment and in-shop talent, among many other things, it brings.

But it does suggest that this season is more equally competitive than others passed.

Bayne won with a part-time team that relies on assistance from a major organization. Smith was victorious (and has done well for a good part of the season) with a one-car outfit that is based in Denver, Colo.

Were either considered likely candidates for victory? Hardly.

Ragan is indeed part of a NASCAR powerhouse organization but, let’s face it, he was considered the weak link in a chain of formidable, winning competitors.

It’s the same thing for Menard. Funny thing, but both drivers have won while some of their teammates have not.

Again, this is not to suggest the car, and all that comes with it, is the only reason for this. Give credit where it’s due. Ragan and Menard have proven they have the talent to make the most of what they have.

In years past many drivers never had such an opportunity. A handful of teams with major sponsorship – and sometimes a sizable disparity among car models – allowed them to dominate others.

This was particularly true during the 1970s, the first full decade of NASCAR’s modern era. The number of different winners over those 10 years never reached double digits.

Hard as it may be to believe there were only five different winners in 1975.

That’s because you could count the number of teams expected to win on one hand. Equality never approached existence.

That began to change in the ‘80s when new, ambitious owners with sponsorship entered NASCAR. It carried through the following decade. There were multiple seasons with anywhere from 11-14 different winners.

Today it has risen to a new level. That is, certainly for NASCAR, a good thing.

 

** I’ve heard it said over the years that the only reason Menard has established a NASCAR career is that he can always bring major sponsorship via his father John.

His dad, incidentally, has been an integral part of motorsports for decades and his rewards, at least those publicized, haven’t been many. He spent 35 years competing at Indy before his son, appropriately, brought him the laurels.

It is true he’s had the financial means to support his son – and gain exposure for the family business over the years – and what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

It’s been long established in motorsports that fathers who have been a part of it in some form nearly always nurture the sons who follow them. They have done so by whatever means available to them.

These fathers have had names like Petty, Allison, Earnhardt, Andretti, Keselowski, Menard, Ragan – and far too many others to mention here.

Their reward has been to see their progeny succeed.

If you saw John Menard’s reaction to his son’s victory, you know it is a great reward, indeed.

 

** Menard’s victory means that he’s presently in the No. 2 position to earn one of the two “wildcard” entries into the Chase.

The top 10 will make it along with two drivers who have won the most races and still rank between 11th and 20th in points after Richmond, six races from now.

Denny Hamlin, who fell a position to 11th after his 27th-place run at Indy, has a victory.

Menard is 14th in points and, of course, has a victory. Ragan, once the only victorious driver among the top 20, is now 16th in points, just seven behind Menard and 41 in arrears to Hamlin.

Meanwhile, Tony Stewart, who had his good moments at Indy, rose from a tie for 10th with Hamlin to ninth in points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also ran well at Indy for a time, finished 16th – his sixth consecutive finish out of the top 10 – and is now on the fence at 10th in points.

With time passing away some drivers clearly have work to do. Gotta admit it will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

Darlington Victory Means, Yes, Smith Belongs

CONCORD, N.C. – Not so long ago, anyone who spoke about the NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star Race might well have said thus: Regan Smith doesn’t belong.

For that matter, he didn’t belong in victory lane after the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, either.

See, Smith drives for Furniture Row Racing, a one-car organization based in Denver – Colorado, not North Carolina. It has a limited number of personnel and relies on at least three major Sprint Cup teams for its pit crew, engines and chassis.

Given all of that, it seemed unlikely Smith and Furniture Row stood any chance of holding their own against the mega-teams – not to mention winning a race.

But you knew all of that.

You also know that Smith pulled off a major upset at Darlington, where he held off Carl Edwards to score an improbable victory at the crusty old track and, in so doing, have his name placed alongside such NASCAR legends as Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough, among others.

And you also know that the win earned him a spot in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, scheduled for tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The fact is, yes, by golly, Smith does belong in a race reserved for only a selected few, all of them winners. After all, he is one of them.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Smith during a press conference, “you are extremely motivated before you get that first win. Then when you get that first win, you know how to do it.

“I’m even more motivated now than I was before, if that sounds right. You get that first one and you want another one. As fast as you can get it and as soon as you can get it.”

The 27-year-old Smith, who, in one man’s opinion looks more like 17, admitted that he and his team knew the victory at Darlington made them eligible for the all star event. But then, for a week at least, their mindset changed.

“Yes, we thought about it as soon as the race at Darlington was over,” Smith said in the CMS garage area. “It was a pretty big deal.

“But it sure didn’t play on our minds at Dover the next week. That was another race for which we had to be ready.

“This week, however, it’s played on our minds a lot more than last week simply because this is all-star week. We’ve done things differently because when you are in the all-star race, there are different requirements and different things you have to do.”

One thing that is decidedly different about the all-star race is the qualifying procedure, which includes a couple of hot laps and a four-tire pit stop.

All of which is completely new to Smith and his team.

“I have never done the qualifying procedure here with the pit stop and everything,” said Smith prior to Saturday night’s time trials. “I’ve never seen a tape or DVD of it being done.

“But anything we do or learn in qualifying, I’m not sure how relevant it is going to be the night of the race. The track is really warm night now and it’s going to be dark when we race.”

Smith’s lack of knowledge might well have been a factor in qualifying, in which he was, overall, 17th fastest of 18 cars to take to the track.

As you might expect, Smith and the Furniture Row team felt surges of confidence and motivation after their Darlington victory. The emotions spilled over to Dover and remain in place at Charlotte.

“There was just more of an air of confidence about the guys,” Smith said. “A lot of guys on our team have ever won before at anything.

“For most of us it was a first experience and that same confidence that I gained as a driver, I can see that confidence within them as a team, which is really cool to see happen.”

Like Trevor Bayne, who won his first career Sprint Cup victory in the Daytona 500 – yet will not compete in the all star race due to a lingering illness – Smith has been thrust wholesale into the consciousness of his peers and the racing public.

Over the past week he has made whirlwind public and media appearances, just as Bayne did.

“I have been busy, real busy,” Smith said. “But it’s been a good busy. You really don’t mind it when it’s for all the right reasons.

“There were, for example, a lot of media obligations. I got the opportunity to go on Sportscenter in Connecticut and that was really cool. I always wanted to do that.

“It’s just been a lot of neat, little stuff that I probably would not have ever done without the win at Darlington. Certainly the win has had a lot to do with what has happened.”

I was privileged to be on a radio show with Smith just two nights after his Darlington victory. I suggested to him that, in the days ahead, he observe, as much as possible, how he is perceived by his fellow competitors.

After all, he not only won a race, he won it at Darlington.

“As for the competitors, the coolest part for me is that you never know where you stand in the garage area or with them.” Smith said. “Me, I’ve been around only a little while and had only limited success.

“But still, it was all the same. As many guys that have come up to me and said congratulations, including the ones in victory lane in Darlington and thereafter, well, it really means a lot.

“I can’t thank everyone enough for the support they are showing my team and me. It’s exciting.

“It’s been so good we want to go out and do it all over again.”

Maybe that will happen in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Why not? It wasn’t supposed to happen in Darlington.

But it doesn’t matter. Smith and his team can derive great satisfaction from this: They belong and everyone knows they do.

 

Regan Smith Wins: Busch Harvick Brawl Meaningless

Regan Smith’s victory at Darlington this past weekend shouldn’t be overshadowed by a brawl that wasn’t. Pushing, shoving, cursing. Big deal. Regan Smith, a Mike Mittler graduate, beat his friend Carl Edwards in a Green/white finish. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Mr. Smith’s Improbable Journey At Darlington Raceway

A couple of points to consider after the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway:

** Sometimes racing rewards us with the unexpected, the unanticipated.

Something happens that is so far beyond the limits of our belief that we really can’t fathom it. We can only can only stand there in amazement, somewhat slack-jawed as we say to ourselves and anyone else who cares to listen, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

We had such a moment in the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington. For years it has been one of NASCAR’s most prominent and venerated races. It’s the oldest held on an asphalt track. It’s conducted on a 1.366-mile layout that is considered the toughest in all of stock car racing.

It is a race that has been won by the likes of David Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and other giants of the sport. Journeymen and, essentially, nobodies do not win it.

Now, however, it has been done. The Southern 500 will go into lore as one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history and one of the most feel-good finishes of all time.

That’s because it was won by Regan Smith – yes, the same Regan Smith who is part of an underfunded, one-car team, which has 64 employees, uses a pit crew from Stewart-Haas Racing, engines from Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and chassis from Richard Childress Racing.

It’s the same Regan Smith who has routinely began regarded as, at best, an also-ran in any race he’s entered.

And, perhaps, the same Regan Smith many of us regarded as a nobody. Trust me, after Darlington he is somebody special, indeed.

“I’m not supposed to do this,” said the 27-year-old Smith as he choked up with tears in victory lane. “I’ve never even had a top five.”

At Darlington, Smith wasn’t handed anything. He earned it.

He gambled and stayed on track when most of the leaders pitted for tires with 10 laps remaining. He told us later that the strategy was one he hoped crew chief Pete Rondeau would adopt.

Smith appeared to be a sitting duck. Behind him on the restart was Carl Edwards, who had been a strong as nine rows of garlic throughout the trace and, unlike Smith, was on fresh tires.

Smith spun his tires on the restart but held the lead. He caught a bit of a break when Brad Keselowski wedged himself between Smith and Edwards.

He caught another when he bobbled – only to have Edwards do the same thing.

Despite his newer tires, Edwards could never reach Smith, who managed to keep his Chevrolet in the fresh air.

Smith led Edwards, the points leader, over the green-white-checkered finish and in so doing, put his name alongside those of the sport’s greats.

Smith’s accomplishment was not lost on others. Among those who congratulated him afterward were Kurt Busch, Greg Biffile and Edwards, who said that if he couldn’t win it was good that Smith did.

Smith is the 2008 Sprint Cup rookie of the year who has gained some notoriety of late because of excellent qualifying efforts.

But he’s seldom, if ever, been considered a victory contender. Everything seems to have worked against him – a small team based in Denver, Colo., of all places, and one that has never been given any chance against the sport’s powerhouses, like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Childress Racing and the like.

Smith, however, came close to victory prior to Darlington. In 2008, he passed Tony Stewart for what appeared to be a win at Talladega until NASCAR took it away because Smith went below the yellow, out-of-bounds, line.

This victory will not be taken away from Smith.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Smith, who earned his first NASCAR victory and admittedly, first of any kind that he can remember. “When I walked to the car today, I literally thought we could win the race. I think that every week when we walk to the car. The difference was this week, we did.

“I can’t believe his. It’s too cool.”

What Smith has given us, and NASCAR, is yet another unanticipated moment when an underdog proves his mettle.

We saw it in Daytona this year when young Trevor Bayne shocked, and pleased, everyone with his victory in the 500 – which restored immeasurable luster to the tarnished, yet venerated, team known as Wood Brothers Racing.

When you think about it, isn’t to have someone succeed despite odds and adversity a true essence and beauty of sports?

Of course it is.

 

 

** Now we move from the sublime to the ridiculous.

It’s too bad that with his victory, Smith had to share the limelight, even in the slightest, with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Truth is that after the Southern 500, most of the talk and TV highlights will be about these two.

They engaged in some bumping and grinding on the track and that carried over a postrace confrontation in which Harvick took a couple of swings at Busch as the two stopped post-race on the track, just above pit road.

Look, I’ll be the first to tell you fans and media alike enjoy driver dust-ups. If nothing else, they smack of the good ol’ days of NASCAR, when competitors settled issues among themselves with fists, tire irons or maybe even a .38.

And there’s nothing wrong with venting, if for no other reason than that given by Tony Stewart, who said that blowing off steam never fixed a car, but it often made a driver feel better.

Hope Busch and Harvick feel better because they certainly did themselves no service.

When it comes to incidents between drivers, NASCAR has tried extremely hard to let the issues be settled among themselves.

Doesn’t always work, as was made clear in the latest episode of Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Ryan Newman.

However, when NASCAR does decide to act that’s when a team can potentially suffer, especially if the sanctioning body responds with loss of points, probation, etc.

When Montoya seemed to show no signs of perceived over aggressiveness in the Southern 500, reportedly NASCAR conveyed its dislike.

Montoya retreated into a shell and was a non-entity for the remainder of the race. Didn’t serve him well in points.

As for Busch-Harvick, we don’t yet know if NASCAR is going to take the matter into its own hands. But you can bet the farm it will.

That’s because when Harvick decided to take a poke at Busch, Harvick’s unattended car rushed across pit road and slammed into the inside pit wall.

That car could have hit any number of people or, worse, pinned someone against the wall.

NASCAR may be relenting when it comes to driver vs. driver, but anytime their actions threaten the well being of others, the sanctioning body wastes no time in judgment.

They may not have been intentional, but Harvick’s actions posed a serious danger on pit road. This is something NASCAR will not tolerate.

I would be stunned if Harvick does not receive a rather stiff punishment sometime this week – maybe Busch, too, but certainly Harvick.

It’s just one example of how a confrontation can get out of hand and become, in the end, much more than for what a driver bargained.

 

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