Smith nabs stunning win at Darlington
by Matt Taliaferro
As NASCAR’s oldest track on the schedule, Darlington Raceway is often compared to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field — venues steeped in tradition that provide links to the sports’ celebrated pasts.
However, NASCAR visits Darlington but once throughout its 36-event slate, while the old ballparks, hockey arenas and football stadiums like Lambeau Field get aggressive workouts during their hosts’ respective seasons. And while every major league baseball diamond is a 90-foot square and every football field 120 yards in length, Darlington’s unique characteristics — 1.366 miles, egg-shaped, single-grooved — make it an anomalous beast in a sea of common-template NASCAR ovals.
And it’s Darlington’s singular nature that often makes for a most bizarre race.
Such was the case on Saturday evening in the Showtime Southern 500, when a grueling 367-lap event hinged on a two-lap, green-white checker finish that produced wrecked racecars, post-race fights and a first-time winner.
Regan Smith, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy — a single-car operation in its 137th start in the Cup Series — won the prestigious race, out-strategizing and out-racing points-leader Carl Edwards
A caution for oil on the track dropped by Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevy with 10 laps remaining set the wild finish in motion. Edwards and second-place Kasey Kahne, along with the majority of the lead-lap cars, hit pit road for tires — either two or four — and fuel. Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart elected to gamble, staying on the track on used rubber, and brought the field to green with five laps to go.
Smith jumped out to the lead, with Edwards dicing his way to second as cars in the pack beat and gouged for position. The field got only one lap under its belt before a three-wide duel turned ugly when Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer ran out of room off of Turn 4. The contact sent Bowyer head-on into the inside wall, while Busch blatantly hooked Harvick’s Chevy after the caution was thrown, sending it spinning into the outside wall.
Talk of payback filled Harvick’s radio chatter as the field lined up for the green-white-checker, still led by Smith with Edwards to his outside. Smith’s black Chevy darted away when the green waved, but Edwards pulled to his bumper with one lap to go as the two slid off Turn 2. As a two-car wreck filled the backstretch on the final lap, Smith held off Edwards to earn his first career Cup victory in one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races.
“I can’t (describe what this means),” an emotional Smith choked in Victory Lane. “My mom comes to every race that I run, just about, and she missed this one. She’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, saving animals after the tornadoes.
“These guys (Furniture Row Racing team) have stuck behind me for three years now. We’ve had some major ups and major downs — I think this will be classified as a major up for sure.”
Smith’s Furniture Row team is a single-car effort based in Denver, Col., that relies on chassis and engine support from Richard Childress Racing.
Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 5.
Meanwhile, the action continued on pit road, as Harvick blocked Busch’s entrance into the garage. Harvick exited his car to confront Busch, who nosed the unmanned No. 29 Chevy into the pit wall. Harvick managed to get one left jab into Busch’s window before he pulled away. Pushing and shoving ensued between Harvick’s RCR group and Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew, as both drivers, as well as their respective team owners, were called to the NASCAR hauler.
Each driver was relatively composed in post-race interviews, with Busch blaming Harvick, saying the contact leading up to the spin was “uncalled for — unacceptable racing.”
He later claimed his No. 18 Toyota had lost its reverse gear, and he had no choice but to push Harvick’s car out of the way or “get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go.”
Harvick was a bit more demurred in his comments after meeting with NASCAR officials and Busch, stating, “We were racing hard, doing what we had to do there at the end, and um, things happen. That’s it … what do ya do? Racing, I guess.”
When asked what was discussed in the hauler, he simply stated, “Not much. I don’t have anything to tell you but ‘not much.’” And, “You saw the end,” when pressed as to whether things were settled between he and Busch.
NASCAR officials did not comment on whether penalties would be handed down. Typically, the sanctioning body releases such rulings on Tuesday.