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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Regan Smith wins a big race with a small team; gives hope to underdogs

Prior to Saturday night at Darlington, Regan Smith was mostly known in NASCAR circles as the guy who probably should’ve won at Talladega a couple years back – if not for that pesky yellow line violation.

But when Smith, who was on older tires, valiantly held off a hard-charging Carl Edwards to take his first checkered flag that actually counted, he proved he was much more than that.

Driving for a Furniture Row team based out of Denver, Colorado, with just one car and 64 total employees … Regan Smith’s victory is nothing short of a miracle in modern-day NASCAR.

This is a great story, because it just doesn’t happen. Last time I can remember something like this was Brad Keselowski’s win for the Phoenix Racing team at Talladega. And this is even more amazing, as Talladega has a history of surprise winners, while Darlington is usually reserved for wins by the best of the best.
The simple fact is that the multi-car team dominates NASCAR. Going into every weekend, you can bet that either a Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs or RCR car will win, as they are the teams with the money … and money buys winning racecars. By staying out on the final caution, and somehow holding the lead, Smith completed a great storyline that gives hope to the few little teams that remain in NASCAR – you never know what’s going to happen if you take a gamble – and what a great gamble it was by crew chief Pete Rondeau.

The Furniture Row team didn’t even run the full season not too long ago, and has made a major leap this season. Smith is an amazing qualifier, has run strongly in many races, and if he can climb into the top-20 has a shot at making the Chase via the wild card.

Smith, who is now qualified for the All-Star race said after the race that he just took advantage of the opportunity he was given.
“The car was good all night. Pete and the guys made some good calls. We got up to six at one point the old fashioned way: driving up there. We had good pit stops. Those guys did a great job. The opportunity presented itself.”

When it came to staying out, Smith gave all the credit to his crew chief.
“Pete and I were talking about it. The decision is his a hundred percent. The way our stuff works is whatever he tells me to do, I do. I did mention, I said, Man, I think this thing would be good with clean air. That's all he needed to hear to make the call to stay out. That won the race for us right there,” Smith said. “We were fortunate on the last restart. I spun the tires on the second to last restart. The tires hooked up good. When we cleared Carl going into one, I thought, That's good, at least we'll finish second in this thing, I won't have to worry about any of the other guys on fresh tires. When he didn't catch me at the white flag and I still had a car length gap at the white flag, I thought, I'm going to run another qualifying lap here, we might have a chance at this thing.”

It almost all went away, though, when Smith hit the wall hard on the last lap. … Luckily, he was able to hang on.
“I hit the fence at turn two. How hard was it? I thought I hit it hard, anyways. Never checked it up. Sailed off into three. I had been on the bottom all night long. My game plan was to stick with the bottom. I figured if he passes me with his tires on the outside, that's all right. I sailed off in there, drove it deeper than I wanted to. I got tight in the middle. I saw he drove off pretty deep, which I expected him to do. He got tight at the same time. I don't know if the air off my car got him or what. He wasn't able to make the run and we won the Southern 500. That's pretty awesome.”

Furniture Row team manager Joe Garone said the win is huge for his small team.
“Well, for our organization, obviously it means everything. We've been six years building this team and literally started from scratch. I can tell you a lot of people, and I can't say I wasn't with them when Barney Visser wanted it run out of Colorado, that we might just be crazy. It's been a long road,” Garone said. “After the second or third year we started realizing we can compete in Cup, we can do a good job, get ourselves in a position to win races. Tonight just solidifies all that hard work and shows the racing community that you can win races outside of the normal North Carolina area.”

Watching Smith in Victory Lane was a great site, as you could see the true emotion on his face as he cherished the win. It was a nice contrast from the usual sponsor-listing you get from Victory Lane regulars such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. A guy like Smith has worked very hard to get where he is, and winning in such dramatic fashion put him through the emotional gamut.

“There were a lot of emotions. I was trying to get them all out at that point so I didn't show it too much on TV there. But I couldn't help it. It's Mother's Day weekend. My mom is not here. She's in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She left Thursday, about the same time I left to come down here, to help out with the recovery efforts and save some animals down there. She's down there doing that. She's always been there for all my wins, all my races, everything. She doesn't miss too many of them. To not have her here, that got me choked up a little. It is now, too.”

“Outside of that, there's been so many ups and downs for my career, so many points where you think, Man, what am I doing? What's the next move? I think it's obvious now the best thing that happened to me was the end of the '08 season I didn't have a drive, I didn't have a ride, got hooked up with Barney and Joe and Furniture Row Racing. There's a lot of times the guys could have got down on me last year, this year, some races this year, but everybody stuck behind me and has given me the support that I needed as a driver to keep my head on straight.”
“It's very special.”

For the record, the last time Smith won a race was in 2008, in a late model race in Canada.
I would say that a win in the Southern 500 at Darlington is a bit of a step up from that.

Now, I fully recognize that in the coming weeks, all the multicar teams will return to dominating the races, and will likely win most or all of them. But I’m pretty sure none of those wins will be as awesome as this one, as the stars aligned as they rarely do and let a young, up-and-coming driver with a small team steal the spotlight.
And who knows, maybe Smith can buck the trend and keep contending.
And, finally, he can forget about the bad luck he had at Talladega.

“We've been doing it good for a while, but now everybody is going to notice how good we're doing it. I don't think I'll go to bed tonight thinking about Talladega, that's for sure,” he joked after the win.

Keselowski post season-best finish
In addition to the great Regan Smith story and the dustup with Harvick and Busch, there was a surprise 3rd place finish by Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, whose season hasn’t gone exactly stellar so far.

Keselowski said that it wasn’t his best run, and he caught some good luck.
“It was our best finish, but not our best run. We were probably a 15th-place car. A nice comeback for this Miller Lite Dodge tonight. We played the strategy card tonight. That was our only shot. It all worked out. We had a shot late in the race and that’s cool. The last restart, I was just trying to stay in my own lane and stay with Regan (Smith). What a crazy finish. I’m happy with the result, but not happy with the way we got it. We want to earn them because we have fast race cars. We’ve got some work to do to make our cars better.”

Smith said that Keselowski’s push at the end of the race helped him get the victory.
“Brad did give me a shove, probably three quarters of the way down the front straightaway. It was just enough of a boost to get me that next little step past Carl to where I could run my line through one and two. If I couldn't have done that, I don't think we could have had the momentum to win. So Brad certainly helped me right there. He kind of preoccupied Carl for that corner and it gave me those two car lengths to stretch it out,” Smith said. “(Brad’s) a guy that has had his first win, he knows how special it feels.”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

now if Phil Parsons would quit pilfering the purse with his start and park sponsered car i would be a happy man,$79,000 for qualifying and parking , no wear and tear , one motor all season , just think if 20 or 30 cars would start doing that and there was no top 35 lock in we could have races with 10 cars after all the others parked for their payday, it makes me really proud that a one car team with hard work and effort can still win in cup

May 9, 2011 at 9:27 AM 

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