Smith strikes a blow for all the underdogs; more Darlington notes
Regan Smith's first Cup win came after starting 23rd, his poorest of the year
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch have started what could become a heated rivalry
The engine problems just keep coming for Richard Childress Racing
Trevor Bayne's victory in the Daytona 500 has been the biggest upset of the Sprint Cup season, but Regan Smith's stunning triumph at storied Darlington Raceway was a close second. The Showtime Southern 500 also had post-race fireworks Saturday night that are unrivaled this season.
Smith was an also-ran among the 18 lead-lap cars when the caution came late in the race. He took the lead when the cars in front of him pitted for tires and then held off Carl Edwards on a green-white-checkered finish for his first Cup victory in 105 starts. It also was his first top-five finish and second top-10.
"Legends win this race," Smith said. "I'm not supposed to win this race. I've never even had a top-five."
Darlington, an uniquely-shaped 1.366-mile track that was NASCAR's original superspeedway in 1950, has more history than even Daytona and Smith has become a part of it in a dramatic race that had plenty of action in it.
1. Smith won for all the underdogs in Sprint Cup. Smith's triumph was also the first for Furniture Row Racing, which operates out of Denver, Colo., and is owned by Furniture Row owner Barney Visser. The single-car team began operating in Cup in 2006 and Darlington was its first top-five, too. Smith has driven for Furniture Row since the start of 2008.
"I guess it shows in this series anybody can win on any given Sunday," Smith said. "These guys have stuck with me for three years. We've had some major ups and downs and this has to be classified as a major up for sure. The car was good all night, but we never had track position. The opportunity to stay out showed up and Pete (crew chief Rondeau) made a great pit call."
Smith was first to cross the finish line at Talladega's fall race in 2008, but NASCAR ruled he'd illegally driven below the yellow line coming to the checkered flag and sent Tony Stewart to victory lane. Smith officially finished 18th. It was a near-miss that Smith can put behind him now.
Smith has six top-five starting positions in 10 races this season, but his best finish was seventh at Daytona and four have been 34th or worse. He started 23rd, his poorest of the season, at Darlington, proving that the work a team puts into developing a fast, consistent race car in practice is far more valuable than a good starting position.
2. Kevin Harvick went gunning for Kyle Busch after the race, but missed. Was a heated rivalry born? Harvick was clearly angry with Busch and looking for a confrontation on the pit lane. When Busch saw Harvick waiting for him at pit entrance, Busch drove back on the track. Harvick backed up and followed Busch onto the track, where both stopped. Then, Busch backed up and turned around and Harvick pulled in front of him at the pit lane entrance and stopped. Busch stopped and Harvick got out of his car and approached Busch.
Busch's Toyota pushed Harvick's Chevrolet out of the way -- it ended up hitting the inside pit wall -- and drove to his hauler. Harvick marched directly to the NASCAR hauler, where Busch headed after changing into street clothes.
Busch, Harvick and Clint Bowyer were involved in a racing incident following a late-race restart. They came through Turn Four three-wide, Busch on the outside, Bowyer on the inside. Busch touched Harvick, who made contact with Bowyer, sending him into the inside wall on the front straight.
Harvick emerged in front of Busch, who tapped the No. 29 and sent it spinning into the outside wall.
"It was tight racing after the restart," Busch said. "Harvick was up top and he got a little loose. He lifted early to let me go. He got into me and made my car loose all the way through the turn. Clint ended up bouncing off Harvick. It's uncalled for, just unacceptable racing. I gave him room off Turn Two and I didn't get the room (in Turn Four)."
Bowyer didn't criticize Busch or Harvick, his Richard Childress Racing teammate.
"It's the nature of the beast," Bowyer said. "There's no room to race at the end. I knew when the caution came out all hell was going to break loose."
3. Richard Childress Racing had another engine problem. Richard Childress Racing's race went from solid to bad in the last 24 laps and it began with an engine failure in Jeff Burton's No. 31. Burton was in contention for his first top-10 of the season when his engine began smoking. Burton dropped out of the racing line and tried to nurse it to the finish, but it blew up two laps later.
RCR has had engine problems this season, notably at Daytona where Burton and Harvick both went out with them.
Harvick and Bowyer were also in contention for top-10s before Burton's engine failure brought out the next-to-last caution and led to the Busch/Harvick/Bowyer contact on the ensuing restart. Harvick finished 17th, Bowyer 31st and Burton 33rd. Teammate Paul Menard was 22nd. He lost a lap early when he was spun out on the pit lane and never got it back.
4. Points leader Carl Edwards just keeps rolling along. Edwards had to settle for second at Darlington. He had just passed Kasey Kahne for the lead when the caution for Burton's blown engine came out. Edwards pitted and restarted fourth, but couldn't overtake Smith following the two restarts.
Edwards has five top-5s including two wins and seven top-10s in 10 races. He increased his lead in the points over Jimmie Johnson to 23, largest of the season.
"I'm sure that will feel good tomorrow, but, right now, I wanted to win that race," Edwards said.
With the Chase format, it's important to be in the top-10 and win as many as possible. Leading the points is relatively insignificant. What is significant for Edwards are the top-5s and top-10s. He's having his best regular season, running at the front in almost every race.
5. Kasey Kahne is making a move up in the points. Kahne finished fourth, his second straight top-five, and gained three positions to 15th in the points. He's only eight behind 12th-place Greg Biffle and trails 10th-place Matt Kenseth by 17.
Kahne's Toyota bounced off the wall while leading early in the race. He led the most laps at Darlington with 124 including 51 straight from laps 282 to 332, but it took some hard work on pit stops to keep the No. 4 up front.
"We had to keep fixing the car, fixing the car," Kahne said. "For hitting the wall as hard as I did, fourth is good."