Smith takes maiden Cup victory

Regan Smith claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory by fending off Carl Edwards in a close green-white-chequered finish at Darlington Raceway

Smith takes maiden Cup victory

Smith, the 2008 rookie of the year, had crossed the finish line first at Talladega in October of that year but was deemed to have passed Tony Stewart by driving bellow the double-yellow line which limits where cars can race for position. Officials stripped him of victory back then, but nearly two and a half years later, the 27-year-old finally got to celebrate in victory lane at one of NASCAR's most legendary venues.

The Furniture Row racer grabbed the lead of the race when the caution waved with eight laps remaining after the engine of Jeff Burton's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet expired. Smith was one of only three drivers who stayed on the track while the leaders pitted for two new tyres for the final sprint.

The green flag waved with five laps to go and Smith was able to remain up front before the caution came out three laps later for the final time following an incident ignited by contact between Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch and RCR's Kevin Harvick, with Clint Bowyer also getting involved as they fought hard for eighth place.

The final restart saw Smith get a nice push from the third-placed Penske Dodge of Brad Keselowski, who helped him stay ahead of a charging Carl Edwards as the penultimate lap of the race started. The Roush Fenway racer quickly moved up to second and placed Smith under pressure ahead of the final lap.

Smith drove right on the edge out of Turn 2 for the last time, getting sideways while trying to get on the power as quickly as possible. With the chequered flag within sight he did enough to keep Edwards behind him out of the last two corners, taking his first victory at NASCAR's top level in his 105th Cup start.

Having qualified better than any of his rivals this season with seven top-10 starts out of a possible 10, Smith was finally able to translate his speed into a top result - which was also the first victory for his squad and team-owner Barney Visser.

"I don't really know how to put it in words right now. It is so surreal," said Smith in disbelief. "We had a good car all night and we had to work for a way back. We kept working on it and these guys kept digging and digging and digging. We got track position. It was good out front with clean air. I hit the wall on the white-flag lap but the chances of me checking up there were about zero.

"My biggest concern on the initial restart, I wasn't as worried. It was the second restart when Carl was on the outside and he had the fresh tyres also or fresher tyres than I did. I spun them real bad on the first one and I just backed it up a bit of a notch on the second restart and went with it.

"It stuck and I held it wide open in [Turns] 1 and 2 on the first lap and tried to hold it wide open in [Turns] 3 and 4 also. The car was good when I got in clean air. That is all I say. I can't be prouder of this team."

Edwards led the race for 57 laps and was up front when he pitted for the last time under the penultimate caution. His second place further strengthens his lead in the standings, although he lamented not being able to wrap up what could have been his second win of the season.

"First of all, congratulations to Regan. He earned that," said Edwards. "On the restart, he spun the tyres a little bit and I thought, 'Alright, I'm not going to beat him to the line because I've got a good enough car with fresh tyres. I can beat him here.' And as soon as I started pedalling, Brad hooked on his rear bumper and they took off. I thought, 'Oh, man. I'm in trouble now.'

"I drove down into turns real hard and Brad did a good job not wrecking underneath me and then we raced hard and he won the race... I'm sure that will feel good tomorrow, but, right now, I wanted to win that race."

Keselowski, who also ventured on staying out when the leaders pitted for the last time, capitalised on his strategy to claim his best result of the season thus far on a day that saw his team-mate Kurt Busch go through yet another tough outing, finishing 27th.

Behind Keselowski, Red Bull's Kasey Kahne seemed poised to take victory as the lap-count faded but despite leading the most laps from pole position, he had to be content with fourth ahead of Stewart-Haas front-row partner Ryan Newman. Hamlin was a solid sixth, while Tony Stewart recovered from being a lap down due to an untimely green-flag stop to finish seventh.

Martin Truex Jr was 10th, recovering from a spin while entering the pits, with Kyle Busch following him in 11th. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was at the centre of controversy following a late exchange with Harvick which dragged into the post-race as the RCR racer tried to show his displeasure to Busch when they drove into the pits after the race concluded.

A furious Harvick confronted Busch, who tried to avoid physical contact but still pushed his rival's car while driving away from the scene as Harvick attempted punching him with his right arm. The pair met with NASCAR officials in the sanctioning body's hauler after the race. Harvick was classified 17th in the end, having led the event for 47 laps.

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was 15th, recovering from contact with Juan Pablo Montoya and then a spin on his own later during the second half of the race.

As usual at Darlington the race was action packed, the caution waving 11 times, seven of them due to incidents.

Results - 370 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 3h53m51.000s 2. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 0.196s 3. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 0.861s 4. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 1.100s 5. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 1.406s 6. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1.682s 7. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 1.796s 8. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 2.594s 9. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2.635s 10. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 2.827s 11. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 3.419s 12. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.682s 13. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 4.392s 14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 4.430s 15. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 4.874s 16. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 8.646s 17. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 9.729s 18. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 27.111s 19. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 20. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 1 lap 21. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 22. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 23. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps 24. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps 25. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 4 laps 26. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 5 laps 27. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 6 laps 28. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 6 laps 29. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 6 laps 30. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 6 laps 31. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 7 laps 32. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 8 laps Retirements: Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet 358 laps Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 332 laps* Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 318 laps* Tony Raines Front Row Ford 172 laps Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 87 laps TJ Bell LTD Toyota 67 laps JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 34 laps Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 29 laps David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 27 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 22 laps Michael McDowell HP Toyota 7 laps * Running again at chequered flag 
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