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Regan Smith revels in long overdue victory

Race report: Regan Smith finally claimed a maiden Sprint Cup victory; unfortunately for him, his big moment was somewhat eclipsed by the fireworks erupting between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
Regan Smith has been racing in NASCAR Sprint Cup since the 2007 Food City 500 at Bristol; in 2008 he was Rookie of the Year (beating out Sam Hornish Jr.) and became the first rookie driver in Sprint Cup history ever to finish every race he entered. And at Talladega in the autumn he came tantalisingly close to winning his first race, before he was disqualified for dipping below the notorious double yellow line to overtake Tony Stewart.

Little did he know it would be more than two and a half years, 105 races from his series debut, before he would actually take that final step and make it to victory road. Or that it would be a Saturday evening race under floodlights at Darlington Raceway that would finally deliver him the title of "NASCAR race winner".

Ironically for someone who had the best starting position average of any Sprint Cup driver in 2011 (7.1, compared with an average finishing position of a very poor 24.6) Smith's big race dawned with his worst starting position of the season to date - he was back in 23rd position, after rain had wiped out most of practice and left qualifying a hurried, harried affair amidst the threat of showers.

That qualifying session had meant that the field was led to the green flag by Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman on the front row, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards ominously lurking right behind them on the second row, with Jeff Gordon fifth, Tony Stewart ninth, Kyle Busch in 14th and Jimmie Johnson starting back in 19th.

Kahne and Newman were quick to battle for the lead, but Mike Skinner was equally quick to go spinning on lap 5 and bring out an early yellow and it was the restart that enabled Newman to get the jump on Kahne and actually move to the front when racing resumed. Drivers on the move early on included Jeff Gordon (quickly up to third), Kyle Busch (rapidly up into the top five), brother Kurt, David Reutimann and Jimmie Johnson. Among those going in the wrong direction were Carl Edwards, who was having trouble with the splitter of the #99 scraping the ground out of the turns - a problem shared by the #43 of AJ Allmendinger.

A second yellow came out on lap 34 for JJ Yeley's troubling smoking habit, and the caution took the place of a "competition" yellow that had been planned for around this part of the race to allow teams and drivers to check their cars given the lack of practice time in Friday's rain. That meant everyone was obliged to pit, and on the other side it was Kasey Kahne back in the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Kahne was easily fastest at the restart on lap 41 and soon had over a second lead on Busch. Having a poor time of it during this stage of the race was Matt Kenseth who was badly off the pace and haemorrhaging positions, falling to the back of the lead lap by lap 55. On the radio, he asked his pit crew chief: "Jimmy, did you pull out a front end shim out or something?" and there was no question that he needed an emergency dive to pit lane for adjustments. Unfortunately he missed the pit lane commitment line and added a drive-thru penalty to his woes, putting him three laps down and thoroughly wrecking his chances for a much-needed good result here.

Kyle was beginning to despair of finding any answer to Kahne's dominance at the front when a yellow came out on lap 73 for David Gilliland hitting the wall. Following the pit stops, Jamie McMurray popped up in the lead after taking two tyres where everyone else stayed put for four, with Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Juan Montoya forming the remainder of the front two rows at the double file restart; Tony Stewart came out of it worst, having problems identifying his pit stall, then needing a chassis adjustment, and finally slow off pit road as well.

Once the track went green again, Jimmie Johnson was the man on the move - quickly past Jeff Gordon on his march toward the top spots. But that put him and Juan Montoya into close proximity, and on lap 83 the two made the lightest of contact seconds after Johnson had appeared to move up and pinch Montoya against the wall, hinting that Montoya's comeback might not have been entirely innocent. Johnson went for a spin that fortunately managed not to include contact with the wall, meaning both cars got away with minimal damage other than flat-spotted tyres on the #48. "I got hit in the back for no reason," reported Johnson over the radio.




Related Pictures

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Kasey Kahne celebrates winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway [Picture credit: Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Kevin Harvick spins after an incident with Kyle Busch on lap 365 during the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. [Picture credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Regan Smith climbs out of the No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet after winning the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. [Picture credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jimmie Johnson spins on lap 220 at Darlington Raceway. Jimmie Johnson battled a loose race car all night spinning twice during the Showtime Southern 500. [Picture credit: Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS celebrates his 4th victory of the season with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, and his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, after winning Sunday, October 26, 2014 the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This is the 10th anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash which killed 10 in Martinsville. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season with his crew Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, races to his 4th win of the season with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishing second Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. Gordon now leads the standings in the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, applies the winners decal in Victory Lane after his victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet, is spun by Brian Vickers, driver of the #55 Aaron`s Dream Machine Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Crew members work on the #4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick in the garage area after an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, and Timothy Peters, driver of the #17 Red Horse Racing Toyota, lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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