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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]
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, passes Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, to take the lead and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and team owner Tony Stewart celebrate winning in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with his wife DeLana and son Keelan in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory and the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Sunday, November 16, 2014 winning the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS finishes 2nd. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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