In the past couple of weeks, the talk of the NASCAR world has been about drivers behaving badly. Whether it was Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya allegedly coming to blows in the NASCAR “Oval Office” following their round of bumper cars at Richmond to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick’s dick-swinging contest at Darlington, one huge story from Darlington wound up virtually being ignored.
And that was Regan Smith, a driver who had only one top-10 finish in his career prior to this past Saturday night (May 7), and Furniture Row Racing, a team based out of Colorado that has, more or less, been a mid-pack team in their Sprint Cup tenure, winning one of the most sought after races in NASCAR, the Southern 500.
One has to feel for Smith, instead of the spotlight being on him for his first official NASCAR victory (or as some fans say, his second win following the controversial ending of the 2008 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega), he has his much-deserved limelight yanked away from him by Busch and Harvick’s pit-road scuffle. Even Harvick seemed to feel sympathy for Smith, stating on his personal Twitter account that he wished people were interviewing Smith about his upset win instead of interviewing him about his latest donnybrook.
To put the magnitude of this upset into perspective, Furniture Row Racing has only been truly in contention to win a race, let alone score a top 10 one other time in the team’s history, and that was at Daytona earlier this year where Smith ran among the leaders all race long. But restrictor-plate races, as has been shown with Trevor Bayne and Brad Keselowski’s lone NASCAR Sprint Cup victories to date, is largely a crapshoot, where anything and everything can happen and upsets are more common.
Darlington, however, is not a track that sees too many first-time winners. In fact, the last first-time winner of any kind at “The Track Too Tough To Tame” was Lake Speed back in 1988 in the spring race. And the more astounding thing is, thanks to a push by Keselowski on the last restart, Smith held off Carl Edwards for the final two-lap stretch and even kept on the gas after hitting the turn 2 wall on the last lap. To be able to out-drive the points leader on one of the toughest tracks on the circuit is nothing to sneeze at.
While many consider the Wood Brothers and Bayne’s Daytona 500 win to be one of the biggest upsets of all time, this win by Smith and Furniture Row Racing just might trump it. The Wood Brothers are no strangers to victory lane, although their wins have grown fewer and further between in the last two decades or so. Furniture Row Racing is not a team one would ever consider to win a race of the magnitude of the Southern 500. Granted, the Southern 500 has lost some luster after losing its Labor Day date to the Auto Club Speedway, but it’s still an impressive win for any team nonetheless.
While Furniture Row Racing likely will never be an organization on the same level of Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing or Richard Childress Racing, they have at least narrowed their gap somewhat. And the astounding thing is the team has done this all from a home base in Denver, Colo. and done it with little to no testing of their racecars.
For years, the Sprint Cup Series has had the same four organizations winning almost every week, but in the 2011 season, there has been a bit of a resurgence by these underdog teams, started with Bayne and the Wood Brothers storybook Daytona 500 win and now further emphasized by Smith and Furniture Row Racing’s triumph at Darlington.
But, because of the antics of other drivers coming to blows, Smith’s victory has largely been ignored and that is an absolute shame, for this makes for a far better story than Montoya and Newman or Harvick and Busch coming to blows.
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