TALLADEGA, Ala. — Regan Smith thought he’d won at Talladega before, only to have a NASCAR ruling go against him.
So there was no rush to celebrate Saturday night as Smith waited for NASCAR to review videotape and scoring loops to determine the winner of the crash-filled Nationwide Series race. He thought he was out front when the final caution flew — after all, it was dark enough that he could clearly see the glaring yellow lights — but experience taught Smith to stay calm.
After a few anxious minutes the word came down: Smith was going to Victory Lane.
“I was having flashbacks sitting on pit road, I’m not going to lie, when they were making the decision,” said Smith, who crossed the finish line first of the 2008 Sprint Cup race but wasn’t awarded the win because NASCAR said he went below the yellow line to pass Tony Stewart.
“I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope we got it. I’m pretty sure we got it when the flag came out and I saw the lights come on.’ I knew we were ahead. I don’t know if it’s vindication, but I definitely wanted to win, and it certainly wipes that bad memory away.”
The race was delayed three hours by rain and slowed by seven cautions, and as darkness closed in on Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR cut the race distance by 10 laps. Then Joey Coulter brought out a caution one lap shy of the new scheduled finish and NASCAR decided it would make one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
At least 10 cars were jockeying for position in packs of two on the final lap when Brian Vickers was spun hard into the outside wall. Smith, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne raced three-wide all the way to the finish line, and Kahne actually crossed it first.
“As soon as they started wrecking, I saw the caution, I still raced to the line. I had a good enough run to get there and be first there, and I was kind of surprised the caution came out,” Kahne said. “I knew I was third when the caution came out and I knew I was first at the line. I actually thought maybe Joey had won.”
The win moved Smith into the points lead for the first time in his career, and for the first time for JR Motorsports. Brad Keselowski had the team second in points for nine weeks in 2008, but the team struggled after his departure, and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. began making wholesale changes last fall that culminated with Smith’s hiring and then the November addition of crew chief Greg Ives, a longtime crew member from Jimmie Johnson’s Cup team.
Smith won the Homestead season finale, and has his first win of the 2013 season.
“We’ve been working real hard as a race team to try to get to Victory Lane,” Earnhardt said.
“I’m real happy for Regan and the whole group, really. They’ve been working so hard, so many late nights, trying to get faster and trying to find that little bit of extra speed, to be as good as they can be. You can really see the effort between Greg and the whole group ... they are trying to gel as fast as they can because they know they’ve got a great opportunity this year.”