Smith Ends Solid Year With Final Top-10

Regan Smith wanted to win Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, because it gave him the best chance to win the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series championship. It would have made a nice bookend to his career at JR Motorsports as well, seeing as how he won first time out in JRM equipment at HMS in 2012.

Smith and the rest of the No. 7 Payroll Chevrolet gave it their best shot, but fell short, finishing ninth in the race and a close fourth in the championship battle. Chris Buescher won the title, with Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon finishing second and third, respectively. Final margin of victory over Elliott was 16 points, while Smith finished 22 points in arrears after 33 races.

Smith started 14th in the race and spent the first 25 laps until the competition caution for rain fighting a very loose-handling race car. Smith dealt with the condition, making the best of things until he scraped the wall for the first time on lap 16, with a little help from a competitor. He got back into a rhythm and hit the caution flag on lap 25 in 10th. By the time he brought it to Jason Burdett and the crew, he was asking to tighten it up some to help with the turn.

From there, it was a case of fighting loose and tight conditions, at alternate times, as the track changed and the laps wound down. Race leaders Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch were setting a blistering pace, and cars were falling a lap down with frightening regularity. Smith joined them near the halfway mark, and by lap 115, only four cars were on the lead lap. By that time, the front end of Smith’s car was very tight and the back end very loose, making each lap an adventure.

After a caution flag on lap 117, Smith came to pit road hopeful of some relief. An air gun broke during the four-tire stop, costing the team time and track position, but it allowed the crew to fix more right-side damage as Smith had slapped the concrete on a couple of occasions while running the high line.

There was a chance late in the race to make some noise. Smith stayed out during a caution flag and took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap, then got a caution flag to allow him to pit for fresh tires. He lined up eighth on the final restart, but was unable to track down the leaders and finished ninth. It was Smith’s 13th straight top-10 finish and 26th of the season, and he set a new mark for top-five finishes in a single season with 11.

Kyle Larson won the race, followed by Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney.

Regan Smith, driver No. 7 team

“I’m glad we were in the conversation [for the championship]. There were a couple points during the year where we shouldn’t have been, due to small mistakes or other people’s mistakes on the race track, so that’s good. I’m frustrated today. We really struggled. This Chevrolet was really fast in practice, but it didn’t translate to the race. We’ve been having trouble with that all year long, and we had trouble adjusting on it during the race. That’s probably part of the reason we dug ourselves a hole and had to claw back out of it again. We showed a lot of resolve this year, speed and consistency. We got wrecked by someone else, or something we messed up or me doing something stupid on the race track. That’s why the 60 car won; they were very consistent all year long. Our year…we have the wins and a lot of great finishes, that you’re pretty happy about, but when you don’t walk away with the championships, that’s frustrating. It’s hard to be disappointed with the results that we’ve had.”

Regan Smith Race Report:
Ford Ecoboost 300

  Start 14th
  Finish 9th
  Laps Completed (Led) 200 of 200 (0)
  Points (Bonus) 35 (0)
  Standings (From Leader) 4th (-22)
  Condition (Status) Running