Smith comes on strong to finish 15th in Vegas
LAS VEGAS (March 11, 2012) – Regan Smith turned the wheel when he needed to, picking up five positions in the final four laps to finish 15th in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 Sprint Cup race.
The result was a career best for Smith at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and it was his top result in the first three races of the season. He remains 19thin driver points.
“We haven’t hit our stride yet, but we’re off to a much better start than last year,” said Smith, who was ranked 28th in points after the third race in 2011.
Smith’s strong finish in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet capped off a weekend that was anything but smooth sailing for the single-car team based out of Denver, Colo.
Smith not only posted a disappointing qualifying effort of 28th on Friday, his first practice on Saturday was equally upsetting.
However, Saturday’s second and final practice session gave the team new hope, but it was learned later that the transmission needed to be replaced, meaning that under NASCAR rules, Smith would have to start at the rear of the 43-car field.
“This is not the track you want to start at the back,” said Smith. “But we sucked it up and battled all day. Track position is so important here because of how difficult it is to pass.
“We never really got hooked up to get to the front in our Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet. But we stayed patient, picked away at it and brought home a respectable result. It’s a good feeling about how we fought back.”
When the green flag waved for the final restart on Lap 264 of 267, Smith was stuck in 20th place and surrounded by a crowd of anxious race warriors on the 1.5-mile oval.
“We had more of a top-15 car rather than a top-20 car today, so it was important to get everything we could in those final laps,” noted Smith.
Smith was running on basically new tires at the end, thanks to a strategic decision by crew chief Pete Rondeau, who called for four fresh Goodyears following the second-to-last caution of Lap 256.
“Regan really put it together at the end,” said Rondeau. “He was boxed in, lost a few spots then came roaring back for an excellent late-race charge. A good ending after a tough start.”
The race winner was Tony Stewart. Rounding out the top-10 were: Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The next race is Sunday (March 18) at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.