By Brian Willwerth
Two storylines emerged from Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. One will surely get more coverage in the days to come than the other.
Regan Smith got his first victory in the Cup Series, holding off Carl Edwards in a green-white-checkered finish. The other headline was the post-race spat between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
We’ll get to the latter in a moment. Although, let’s give some props to the winner.
The closest Smith, 27, had ever come to winning a Cup race was at Talladega in 2008. He crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR denied him the victory because he ran below the yellow line when he passed Tony Stewart. Stewart was given credit for the win. To this day, I still think Smith got robbed. But that’s in the past now. But there was nothing illegal about his win at Darlington. When the caution waved with nine laps to go, Smith elected not to pit, and stayed out on old tires. The strategy worked, as he was able to hold off Edwards in a two-lap overtime shootout. It was Smith’s first victory in 105 career starts, and the first win for Furniture Row racing. He’s still in 29th in the points (Edwards retained the lead.) But with one more win, Smith could possibly get into contention for one of the new wild card spots for the Chase for the Championship.
Now, as for the other headline…the accident that brought out the final caution involved Busch, Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
The drivers ended up three-wide, and Bowyer ended up spinning into the inside wall. As Bowyer’s car was coming to a halt, Busch tracked down Harvick and sent the #29 for a ride.
After Smith had crossed the finish line, Harvick tracked down Busch’s #18 car at the entrance to pit road. The two eventually came to a stop. After about a minute of silent drama, Harvick climbed out of his machine, went back to Busch’s car, and took a swipe at Kyle. Then Busch stepped on the gas, and sent Harvick’s car, with no driver inside, crashing into the wall on pit road. The tempers continued to flare among the pit crews afterward – lots of finger-pointing, but no punches thrown.
Kyle Busch has gained a reputation of being NASCAR’s bad boy. If you go to a race, he gets booed all the time during driver introductions. But if you look up “nice guy” in the dictionary (yeah, I know it’s two words, but work with me) you won’t find a picture of Harvick, either. There is a history between these two. In the season finale last year at Homestead, Harvick intentionally wrecked Busch, and admitted to doing so afterward.
Of course, these juicy dust-ups are just what NASCAR needs. Tempers flaring mean ratings. It means more people in the seats to watch a race. The fans want to see who will throw the next punch. I won’t even mention what the drivers said over their radios, because some of it cannot be repeated here. There have been many of these moments already in this season. Here’s hoping for a few more.
In the meantime, it’s off to the Monster Mile at Dover on Sunday.