Showtime Southern 500 Recap
They’ve been racing at Darlington Raceway since 1950. But Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 will go down as one of the best in the history of the legendary South Carolina track.
While the race clocked in at just over four hours and included some long stretches of strung out racing around the treacherous 1.366-mile track, the big finish was worth the wait.
Pit road drama, tire strategy, high emotions, fights and an upset winner were all neatly wrapped up in the final stages of Saturday night’s memorable race.
But while the water cooler talk Monday will surely be about the on track and post race scuffle between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, the Cinderella story of Regan Smith’s win should be the center of attention.
Somehow in this day and age of multi-car super teams and power houses like Hendrick, RCR, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush dominating the Sprint Cup Series, a little one car team headquartered in Denver, Colorado won one of the sport’s most prestigious races.
Although the Furniture Row team does have an alliance with the Childress organization it is still very much a David battling against a sport filled with Goliaths.
“I don't think anybody realizes how much work has gone into getting this program where it is out of Colorado,” said Smith basking in the glory of his unlikely victory. “(Team presidents) Joe Garone, Barney Visser , all of them. Barney has put a huge, huge investment into NASCAR into this team. I can't be more proud to be driving it.”
Smith was almost here before when an apparent win at Talladega was taken away when NASCAR ruled he had dipped below the yellow out of bounds line and the victory was given to Tony Stewart.
But he doesn’t look at his accomplishment Saturday night as any kind of vindication. According to Smith winning at Darlington is just better.
“It feels a lot different at the end of the day when you say 'Hey, I won a race at Darlington,'” he said. “The names that have won here...the Pearsons, Yarboroughs and on and on, you name it. I was sitting behind some of those guys today and I was thinking 'Man, these guys are pretty awesome. They are legendary'. I don't know if my name deserves to be next to them, but after tonight, maybe it does."
Smith’s performance showed he most definitely belongs on the list of legends who have won at NASCAR’s top level.
It might take a little time for the young driver to believe it but it has every right to sink in even if it doesn’t happen for a while.
“We've got a neat trophy now,” he said. “Legends win this race, I'm not supposed to win this race. I've never even had a top five. I guess that shows in this series, anybody can win on any given Sunday."
Or Saturday night.
Finally something for the Penske Racing to feel good about on the Sprint Cup Series side of the house. While the defending Nationwide Series champion has been okay on the Junior Circuit, he’s struggled big time in the Miller Lite Dodge until Saturday night. A decision to stay out and not pit for tires at the end of the race proved to be a wise one and Keselowski came home third.
Showed that his solid run last week in Richmond was not a fluke with a pole-winning performance to start the weekend and an effort that nearly netted him his first win of 2011. Kahne has to be considered a candidate for the Chase this year at least as a Wild Card and looks like he’ll be in the mix for wins in the coming months as he helps showcase the Team Red Bull ride for 2010.
Martin Truex Jr.
Things looked bleak for Truex when he spun trying to come into the pits, an embarrassing move in light of his radio blow up last weekend that caused a shake up on the No. 56 team’s pit road personnel. But he recovered nicely and drove a very fast race car back to the front half of the field to score a very respectable tenth place finish.
Any memory of last year’s stellar run to close the season has been forgotten by the seemingly constant struggles of 2011. Logano got tapped and spun into the inside pit wall to ruin his night and hand him yet another disappointing finish and a 35th to show for his effort.
The veteran can share a lot of what Logano is going through with a tough opening ten races of 2011 as well. This time it was an overheating issue that cooked Burton’s engine and knocked him out with a dismal 33rd place finish.
Don’t usually see the five-time champion listed in this category but a painful night that was probably worse than the 15th place finish Johnson earned. Got spun out early after contact from Juan Pablo Montoya only to work his way back to the lead lap and get penalized late in the race for a missing lug nut after a trip to pit road. The radio communication between Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus was especially chippy Saturday night with all the frustration.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
“Sorry, I locked the front tires. He braked really early, and I locked the front trying to avoid him. Did he hit anything?" – Juan Pablo Montoya asking about Jimmie Johnson
"That boy (Montoya) can't stay away from controversy, can he?" – Tony Stewart
"It's a big old pile of @#%^. Who was that? Damn." – Dale Earnhardt Jr. surveying the damage from Brian Vickers’ car
“I'm gonna have to turn my radio off now" – a frustrated Kurt Busch
“Just can't wait to get out of here. Nature of the beast, there's no room to race at this place.” – Clint Bowyer
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 a four. A 500-mile race at Darlington Raceway is a very long proposition and Saturday’s race as expected had long stretches of tedium. But like so many other races this year the best was yet to come and the closing laps provided enough mayhem, drama and high emotion for a month’s worth of racing. Tempers flared and a surprise winner emerged to make the 2011 edition of the Southern 500 one of the best in the storied track’s history.
DOWN THE ROAD
A week off from night racing and a Sunday afternoon trip to Dover International Speedway is next up for the Sprint Cup Series. “The Monster Mile” usually provides one of the season’s most grueling challenges and the one-mile concrete track will most likely live up to its name and make the garage area a busy place.
|More NASCAR coverage|