Photo: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

Throwback Thursday Theater – Regan Smith Pulls off the Darlington Upset

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Before Furniture Row Racing became the juggernaut it is in 2017, the Colorado based team had to scratch and claw for everything single position on the track, especially in their early years.

The team which just started a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule back in 2008 brought Regan Smith on board starting in 2009 for a part-time schedule before moving back to full-time the next season.

Smith came onto the Cup Series scene with Bobby Ginn and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2007, but it was at Talladega in October of the next year that Smith’s name really made headlines. The New York native was the first to cross the finish line in the Amp Energy 500 in what would have been his first win in the Cup Series and his first finish better than 14th, but it was ruled that Smith had passed Tony Stewart below the yellow line to advance his position, stripping him of the win and relegating him to an 18th place finish while Stewart was awarded the win.

After moving to Furniture Row in 2009, the pair struggled, not scoring their first top-10 together until the 2011 Daytona 500, but when the Cup Series rolled into Darlington for the Showtime Southern 500 on Mother’s Day weekend, the partnership between Smith and Furniture Row really started to pay dividends.

Starting the race in 23rd, Smith worked his way into the top-10 while the lead swapped between a handful of drivers (Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards), with Kahne leading the most laps with 124 circuits up front.

With nine laps to go, Jeff Burton’s engine expired on his Chevrolet, putting oil down on the track and bringing out the caution. At that point it was decision time, would the leaders come to pit road for valuable fresh tires or would they stay out and chance it, hoping their tires that had been chewed away by Darlington’s notoriously rough surface would hold up over the final handful of laps?

Edwards, who was leading at the time, elected to come to pit road for two tires along with several others, but Smith, Brad Keselowski, and Tony Stewart stayed out, giving Smith the lead for the ensuing restart.

Though Smith spun his tires on the restart, he was able to stay in the lead, while Edwards restarted fourth and quickly moved up to second place. Two laps later, the caution was out again, this time for a crash involving Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer to push the race into overtime.

The crash between the three started when Harvick and Busch were jockeying for position just after the restart, with Harvick giving Busch a shot in the rear bumper heading into Turn 3. The bump shot Busch up the track and allowed Harvick and Bowyer to make it three-wide heading onto the frontstretch, which as we all know never works at Darlington.

Bowyer would wind up getting the raw end of the deal as his Chevrolet got sent hard into the inside wall, while Harvick got spun by Busch heading into Turn 1 to bring out the yellow.

On the final restart, Smith got the jump on Edwards with a little help from Keselowski, giving him the advantage as Edwards was able to work his way back to second coming off of Turn 2. Edwards set his sights on Smith’s Chevrolet directly ahead of him, but Smith drove the next lap and a half almost flawlessly, except for a brush with the Turn 2 wall on the final lap as he was able to keep Edwards at bay to score his first career Cup Series win.

The win marked only the third time that a first time win came at the track “Too Tough to Tame” and was the first since Lake Speed scored his one and only Cup Series win in 1988.

“First and foremost, to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day,” said Smith. “My mom comes to every race that I run just about and she missed this one. She’s in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with some animals, saving animals, after the tornados down there. So, Mom, hi, I love you. Sorry you missed this.”

“Furniture Row, these guys have stuck behind me for three years now and we’ve had some major ups and major downs. I think this will be classified as a major up for sure. The car was good all night, we just never had track position and the opportunity showed up to stay out there. Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) made a great pit call. I was going to be mad if he didn’t say that, but I was going to do what he told me to do and it worked out. We’re in the All Star Race. There’s too much cool stuff going on right now.”

“Legends win this race. I’m not supposed to win this race. I’ve never even had a top-five. I guess that just goes to show that in this series anybody can win on any given Sunday.”

Meanwhile, tempers were boiling over between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch following their late race run-in. After the checkered flag flew, Harvick repeatedly pulled his car alongside and in front of Busch’s and things finally came to a head when the two reached pit road. Harvick parked his car in front of Busch’s and got out of his car and began walking back to Busch, but before he reached Busch’s car, Busch sped forward, pushing Harvick’s car out of the way and into the inside wall.

Needless to say, NASCAR was not amused and called the drivers to the NASCAR hauler for a little talk.

“It was tight racing after the restart there,” said Busch. “Harvick’s up on the top a little loose and I had a run. I gave him room and he kind of came off the wall. That’s a bad angle obviously and he lifted early to let me go into Turn 3. I thought it was all good and then he drives into the back into the back of me there. Made my car all the way through the exit and just made a run for those two guys to get back on my inside and then obviously Clint wrecked bouncing off of Harvick. It was just uncalled for. Just unacceptable racing.”

“I mean, obviously, we were racing hard and doing what we had to do there at the end and things happened,” said Harvick. “That’s it. Just racing, I guess.”

When asked if things were settled between himself and Busch, Harvick flashed his signature smile and said “You saw the end” before walking away.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.