By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
The last time that Tommy Baldwin Racing scored a top five finish was in 2011 when Dave Blaney finished third in the Talladega Chase race.
Since it’s inception in 2009, TBR has scored just three Top 10’s and one top five.
When the weekend started, it looked as if it would be another typical race weekend for Smith and his No. 7 APC Chervolet SS. Smith was 31st in the first practice, qualified 30th and was 30th fastest in the final practice.
The race, scheduled for Sunday, July 31st, was delayed due to rain and weepers in turn two. After a brief delay Monday morning, the race finally went green just after noon Eastern Time.
The race was face paced from the start as many believed weather would play a factor, and would cut the race short. As the race reached the halfway mark however, it seemed that NASCAR might be able to get the entirety of the race in before weather would cut it short.
The threat of weather continued, and several teams including Smith’s No. 7 and Chris Buescher elected to use an alternate pit strategy in the hopes that they could steal a win or a good finish. Both Smith and Buescher had been running just outside the Top 20 throughout the entire race prior to their last pit stop.
As the field cycled through what turned out to be the final round of green flag pit stops, the lead switched from Kyle Larson, to Austin Dillon, A.J. Allmendinger, and finally Buescher on lap 127.
As his competitors hit pit road, Smith also climbed up the standings. Smith was running in second, just behind Buescher. Brad Keselowski, who was also on a different pit strategy eventually made his way past Smith for the second spot.
The alternate strategy proved to be the correct strategy as the caution waved just six laps later for fog. The field circulated for another five laps as NASCAR waited for the fog to burn off. The fog however, got heavier, and NASCAR made the decision to bring the field to pit road, and put the race under red flag conditions.
After a nearly 90 minute wait, NASCAR called the race after 138 laps. As a result, Buescher was declared the winner, and Smith recorded a third place finish. This is TBR’s second top five and fourth Top 10.
For Smith, this is his fourth career top five, his most recent of which came in the 2012 Talladega Chase race. This is also Smith’s best career finish this season, and his first top ten since the Daytona 500 where Smith finished in eighth.
A jubilant Smith highlighted the weather and varying strategy in a weekend full of unknowns.
“It’s been a strange weekend really weather wise,” said Smith. “There were times yesterday I thought we were going to get to race and the track had like a pond underneath it apparently. I’m just proud of Tommy (Baldwin) and then the guys on the box for kind of realizing there was opportunity for a strategy play there. We have had a decent run today.
“We were a lot better than we were last time here. We have made a lot of gains with our racecar and with our team. When you are a small team you’ve got to take those opportunities when you can. Fortunately, we were getting good enough fuel mileage to just keep trying to stretch it and have enough left for when the caution did come out. I don’t know that we could have predicted it would have been from fog. I think we were just trying to do what we could do to make sure we maintained as far up as we could and maybe lead a lap or something like that.
“That is what you’ve got to do sometimes.”
Smith and his No. 7 TBR team will now look to carry their momentum to the repaved Watkins Glen International.