Regan Smith isn't someone you'd necessarily associate with road course success - before this weekend he had never won a road race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, although the JR Motorsports' driver did come close here one year ago when he was runner-up to Chris Buescher. In fact the 31-year-old from New York state hasn't enjoyed much success on any kind of track in the last year and a half and so he was understandable hungry to get back to victory lane anyway he could - even if it meant attempting a last lap bump-and-run Hail Mary pass on one of the most experienced and skiled road course specialists around today.
CLICK: Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
Alex Tagliani had already succeeded in capturing his third series pole position for Penske with a time of 84.626s (96.056mph), after finishing qualifying a quarter of a second faster than current Xfinity Series championship leader Chris Buescher in the #60 Roush Fenway Ford on the 2.4-mile, 15-turn road Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Tagliani successfully kept the lead at the start, with the race staying green despite harmless early off-roading for Smith and Tommy Drissi (JGL Racing). The first caution of the day finally came on lap 7 when David Starr stalled on the backstraight, allowing the field to make their first round of pit stops with another road course specialist, Boris Said, picking up the lead by staying out along with reigning Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott and his team mate Smith who was recovering from his early off.
Elliott was able to get around Said for the lead at the restart on lap 10, with Daniel Suarez working his way into the top three before a new caution two laps later after a blown tyre put Kenny Habul into the dirt run-off. A further round of pit stops under yellow saw Elliott Sadler stay out this time to pick up the lead, but it was his Roush Fenway team mate Chris Buescher who was quicker to get back up to speed and who duly took control of the race for the first time on lap 17, followed by Alex Tagliani who had by this point also cycled his way back through the sequence of staggered pit stops to return to the front
Michael Self and Darrell Wallace Jr. both had spins but it wasn't until Ben Rhodes went off and beached in the gravel on lap 21 that a new caution was finally thrown. The race had barely restarted when there was another caution for fluid on the track on lap 26, but that brief spell of green had been enough to allow Tagliani to use his years of road course experience to nose into the lead.
Despite a crash on the next restart on lap 30 for Kenny Habul, the race stayed green with Tagliani pulling away from Buescher while behind them Regan Smith, Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott were all jockeying for next-best honours. The green flag run finally came to an end on lap 40 when Dylan Kwasniewski ground to a halt on track at turn 9 which allowed everyone to make their next stop under yellow, which worked especially to the advantage of Smith who won the race off pit road ahead of Tagliani. Among the losers during this sequence of pit stop were Boris Said whose car would not refire, and Suarez who needed to come back in for repairs after making heavy contact with Eric McClure's JGL Racing Toyota during his initial stop.
McClure also sustained damage in the collision but didn't realise the extent of the harm done until lap 51 when the ailing #24 dropped a load of fluid on the track to bring out the sixth caution of the afternoon. Smith retained the lead for the next restart but was unable to pull out the same one second lead that he had managed to in the previous stint, and on lap 60 with 15 laps remaining the Canadian was able to find his way around Smith.
A caution on lap 64 for Ryan Reed stuck in the gravel in turn 2 after contact with Justin Marks resulted in a multi-car incident at the restart which caught up Joe Gibbs Racing's Boris Said and Kenny Habul as well as Tommy Drissi. Once that was cleaned up, there was a final four-lap sprint to the flag with Tagliani looking very much at home at the front and seemingly unbeatable as he pulled away from Smith. But Smith clearly had other ideas and was by no means done just yet: he piled on the pressure, and finally heading into the final corner on the last lap he bumped his way past the veteran to push his way into the lead and pick up his first Xfinity win in 52 races, his last visit to victory lane having been at Daytona in February 2014. It's Smith's fifth victory in 190 Xfinity appearances.
Behind the pitched battle for the win between Smith and Tagliani, Ty Dillon was able to get ahead of Buescher to pick up third place while Chase Elliott took fifth ahead of Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott and Darrell Wallace Jr., with Athenian Motorsports' Dylan Lupton in ninth just ahead of Ben Rhodes. Suarez was lucky to recover from his pit lane incident but just missed a top ten spot at the line.
In the Xfinity Series championship standings, Buescher slightly increases his lead to 24 points, with Ty Dillon now in second place by one point from Chase Elliott, with the rest of the top six continuing to be comprised of Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr.
Next up on the calendar is the Food City 300 under the floodlights at Bristol Motor Speedway on the evening of Friday, August 14.
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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