By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(May 13, 2011)
DOVER, Del.—The winner of the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington no longer has to worry that what happened at Talladega in 2008 might have bothered him for the rest of his life.
By holding off Carl Edwards last Saturday, Regan Smith exorcised the demon that could have haunted him—the yellow-line call that took an apparent victory away at Talladega in October 2008, when Smith was penalized for passing declared race winner Tony Stewart below the yellow line as the cars sped toward the checkered flag.
"I said for a while I don't think about Talladega anymore—I just want to get another one," Smith told Sporting News on Friday at Dover International Speedway. "But you still think about that stuff. And I thought, 'Well, what if I don't get another shot to win? What if you end your career and you're sitting there with that one hole in the back of your mind, thinking, Well, I could have got a win.'
"So to get the win, that meant a lot, but to get it at Darlington. … I still look at the pictures of the trophy. I don't have the trophy at home yet, but I still look at the pictures—the faces and names on there. I definitely appreciate it more because of that."
Smith doesn't have the trophy because his likeness is still being engraved.
"I was going to take it home in the car with me, but they wouldn't let me take it home that night because of that," he said.
There are more than a few quirky coincidences relating to Smith's victory. Stewart was the primary beneficiary of NASCAR's yellow-line call, but it was a pit crew provided by Stewart-Haas Racing that helped Smith get the win.
Edwards and Brad Keselowski finished second and third, respectively, at Darlington. Those same drivers battled for the win at Talladega in April 2009, with Keselowski winning the race by holding his line (above the yellow line) while Edwards sailed into the catch fence after contact between the two cars. A push from Keselowski last Saturday helped propel Smith past Edwards during the crucial green-white-checkered-flag finish.
"Stewart-Haas crew is on the car," Smith said. "You've got Brad and Carl who were the two guys that were racing the next time we went back to Talladega. Based on Brad being the one who pushed me and helped me get to the win—maybe he would have gone below the yellow line (in 2009) had my situation not happened. You never know.
"There are so many "coulda-shoulda-wouldas," and who knows what would have happened? But it was kind of surreal. There's a lot of little things you can tie together. Something else I didn't realize was that first, second and third, and even (Jamie) McMurray in ninth—we were all guys that went through the Mittler brothers at one point or another in the truck (series) programs. I thought that was a pretty interesting little stat for those guys this week."
Kyle Busch deals with blown engine, wreck
Trouble followed Kyle Busch to Dover International Speedway, but the nemesis this time wasn't Kevin Harvick.
Busch blew the engine in his No. 18 Toyota during the first Sprint Cup practice session at the Monster Mile. Between sessions, his crew replaced the engine. Accordingly, Busch will have to start from the rear of the field in Sunday's FedEx 400—the penalty for replacing an engine at any point during the weekend.
With the new power plant under the hood, Busch slapped the outside wall after completing 16 laps of final Cup practice. The car was so heavily damaged on the right side that Busch's crew had to remove the crush panels to straighten the sheet metal.
Needless to say, Busch lost valuable practice time while repairs were being made. He returned to the track late in the session and completed 24 more laps and posted the 33rd fastest speed in Happy Hour.
Cup drivers won't practice again before Sunday's race, with qualifying scheduled for 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday.
Newman: NASCAR racing all about respect
Ryan Newman isn't exactly a forgotten man, but last week's strife between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at Darlington has put the Newman-Juan Pablo Montoya feud on the back burner.
"Honestly, I'm kind of new to the bad-boy market," Newman said when asked about the difference between public and secret penalties handed down by NASCAR.
That's not entirely accurate. Newman acknowledged last July that he had been fined secretly, ostensibly for disparaging comments about racing at Talladega. Denny Hamlin also received a substantial secret fine for comments on Twitter questioning the legitimacy of debris cautions.
The two drivers admitted that the penalties had been imposed only after reports surfaced in the media. NASCAR, on the other hand, announced the $25,000 fines and five-week probation levied against Busch and Harvick after their pit-road confrontation at Dover.
Montoya and Newman drew no public punishment for their actions at Richmond (where Montoya retaliated against Newman after contact from Newman's car sent Montoya's into the wall) or for a physical confrontation in the NASCAR hauler when the sanctioning body tried to discuss the disagreement with the drivers.
Those types of incidents are nothing new to NASCAR, Newman said Friday at Dover International Speedway. It's all about respect.
"I think if you look back at the history of the sport, it's always been there, and it's been some of the benchmarks for the sport," Newman said. "The first race on TV (1979 Daytona 500, first live flag-to-flag coverage) and the fight that happened out there between (Cale) Yarborough and the Allisons. … The Intimidator (Dale Earnhardt) himself, he wasn't just the Intimidator because of his mental game. He was an Intimidator because of his physical game.
"There's a lot of history in our sport with not being pushed around or being the one that pushes around. There's a fine balance for that depending on the driver, the competition and the racetrack—where you're at in the season and all those things play a part of what you have to do as a driver to either get that respect or make sure that you're given that respect."
It's become almost commonplace for drivers to call each other during the week after an altercation during a race. Jeff Gordon is the exception to that rule.
"This whole calling thing, I don't know who started that, but I didn't know that existed," Gordon said Friday. "When I was coming up, we didn't call one another. We didn't say anything. We went to the next race and we either confronted it at the time or confronted it the next week or two weeks later. The whole calling thing is strange to me, because if somebody calls me on Tuesday—let's say somebody wrecks me and somebody calls me on Tuesday—they're calling me so I don't wreck them the next week. They're not calling me because they really believe that we should have a conversation.
"I don't want you to call me. If I call you, you should be thinking the same thing. I usually don't call them either because I prefer to just—one is I prefer them to wonder if I'm ever going to get them back, and then at the same time, usually I forget about it and move on and we go racing and we don't worry about it. I don't let it linger. To me, having a conversation on Tuesday or Wednesday of that week doesn't seem to resolve a whole lot."
Penske cars fast without German
Less than two weeks after Kurt Busch openly complained about technical director Tom German on the team radio, German decided to take a leave from Penske Racing to pursue an educational opportunity at MIT's Sloan School of Management.
Coincidentally, Busch and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski posted the top two fastest speeds, respectively, in Friday's second Cup practice session.
"The timing is interesting on things, and it means my voice has been heard through the Penske organization," Busch said.