Monday, May 9, 2011
The Southern 500
First Cup Victory for Regan Smith
DARLINGTON, SC – It has been three long years since Regan Smith’s victory at Talladega was taken back from him by NASCAR for illegally passing Tony Stewart on the apron. But Smith kept going after it and he finally made victory circle at Darlington. "This is no knock against Talladega at all, but I would trade in a lot of Talladega wins for one win in the Southern 500," said Smith, “This race is so special and so meaningful. We were standing there looking at the names and the faces on the trophy, and you just look at it, and you think, 'my face is going to be there right next to these guys, and it'll be there forever.'"
It wasn’t at all clear until they crossed the finish line that Smith was the victor.
On lap 341, Kasey Kahne acquired the lead until Jeff Burton’s motor grenaded spewing oil all over the track. During the caution, Smith Keslowski and Stewart decided to forego the final pit stop claiming the first three spots on the restart. Smith, with help from Keslowski, managed to hold Kahne off leading into the final laps. It was an exciting few laps with very close racing. Then on lap 363, Harvick came up a tapped Busch on the left rear bumper then came up beside him to pass. With the duo running side-by-side, Clint Boyer came along the inside making it three-wide out of turn 4. It then appeared that Boyer slid-up on Harvick spinning himself into the infield wall. Seconds later, Kyle Busch came up on Harvick, in apparent retribution spinning him and putting the 29-car into the outside wall.
Carl Edwards on fresh tires made a strong run on Smith crossing the finish line alongside Smith, but Regan held on to the win. Edwards was obviously disappointed that he couldn’t beat Smith, but was happy for Smith. Carl and Regan formed a strong friendship back in 2002 while both drove for Mike Mitter. About Regan Busch commented, “I got a lot of respect for him.”
The tempers were still flaring between the 18 and 29. Harvick commented over the radio that “…the 18 hooked me.” The reply came not to worry, “we’ll hook the 18 some other time.” Harvick must’ve thought that meant now following Busch onto pit row, then cutting in front and stopping him dead in his tracks. Harvick climbed out of his car and walked back towards Busch. Busch wasn’t going to wait for Kevin to come back and punch him, so with Harvick clear of the car, Busch hit the gas, pushing the 29 car into the pit wall. 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, or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there."
Luckily no one was hurt. Coincidentally, the 18 and 29 haulers were parked next to one another, and the crews had to be separated following some angry pushing and shoving. Then Kevin Harvick arrived and challenged the Busch crew to a fight. “Y’all are a bunch of %$#8!A NASCAR official said “You’re coming with us to our hauler now!” Harvick followed the official into the “woodshed,” followed soon thereafter by Busch and team owners Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress. After about a 20 minute meeting with Mike Helton behind closed doors, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp stated that “it will be determined Tuesday whether any teams and drivers will be assessed fines and/or penalties.
"It was tight racing after the restart there and Harvick was up on the top, a little bit loose, and I gave him room," Busch said. "He kind of came off the wall -- that's a bad angle, obviously -- and then lifted early to let me go into Turn 3 and I thought it was all good. Then he drives into the back of me there, so ... it made my car loose all the way through the exit, and just made a run for those two guys to get back on my inside. "And then obviously Clint wrecked, bouncing off Harvick. It was just uncalled-for; it was unacceptable racing. I know it's the last couple of laps, but I gave him room coming off [Turn] 2 and I didn't get the room."
"Obviously we were just racing hard and doing what we had to do at the end. And things happen. That's it," Harvick said. Asked what got discussed with Busch, Joe Gibbs and NASCAR officials in the NASCAR hauler, Harvick grinned and said: "Not much."