Regan Smith Finishes 16th at Las Vegas

Pit Road Speeding Penalty Thwarts Strong Run for Interim Haas Automation Driver

Date: March 8, 2015
Event: Kobalt 400 (Round 3 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 34th/16th (Running, completed 266 of 267 laps)
Winner: Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet)

Regan Smith, interim driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), appeared to have a racecar capable of posting a top-five finish in the Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but a pit road speeding penalty proved too costly to overcome. Despite the setback, he was able to rally for a 16th-place finish.

“We had an extremely fast Haas Automation Chevy,” Smith said. “These guys worked hard all weekend and stuck with me. (Crew chief) Tony Gibson gave me a fast racecar. I made a mistake on pit road. To get top-five and top-10 finishes in this stuff you can’t make mistakes. That was on me today. I’m proud of the effort and proud of these guys sticking with it. They dug deep for me, and I appreciate that.”

Smith, who started 34th, advanced steadily through the field, reporting his pleasure with the handling of the Haas Automation Chevrolet. Only slight adjustments were needed throughout the course of the race to correct minor handling issues.

Just before halfway, when the window opened for the race leaders to make scheduled green-flag pit stops, Gibson called Smith to pit road to get four fresh tires and fuel. While making his way to his pit stall, he was caught speeding in the first zone on pit road and assessed a pass-through penalty. With debris on the racetrack, Gibson instructed Smith to stay on the racetrack in hopes of the caution flag being displayed. But, when the caution call never came, Smith headed down pit road under green-flag conditions to serve his penalty. The result was a loss of one lap to the race leaders.

It was a setback that Smith was determined to overcome, and by racing hard he positioned himself to be the first car one lap down and therefore eligible for the “free pass” to get back on the lead lap. On lap 195, when a multicar incident forced the yellow flag to be displayed, Smith was able to rejoin the leaders and once again find himself in contention for a strong finish.

With teams needing to make one more stop for fuel before the checkered flag, Gibson elected to leave Smith on the racetrack for as long as he could in an effort to pick up positions. While Smith was scored as high as second as a result of the strategy, the caution flag his team had hoped to see never waved, and Smith was forced to come to pit road under green-flag conditions for his final stop of the day. With the field strung out, Smith was unable to advance positions over the closing laps. When the checkered flag waved, Smith was credited with a 16th-place finish.

Smith’s teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by winning the Kobalt 400. It was the 26th point-paying Sprint Cup win for SHR since its inception in 2009 and the organization’s first this season.

Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, started 18th and led five times for a race-high 142 laps around the 1.5-mile oval. It was his 29th career Sprint Cup victory, his first at Las Vegas and his third in the last six races dating back to Texas Motor Speedway in November. This was Harvick’s sixth straight finish of second or better. The last time a driver had six consecutive top-two finishes was Jeff Gordon in 1996.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 21st and finished 27th.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 12th and finished 33rd.  

Martin Truex Jr. finished 1.64 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were six caution periods for 28 laps, with only one driver failing to finish the 267-lap race.

With round three of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 134 points, nine ahead of second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. Patrick is 20th  with 68 points, 66 points out of first. Stewart is 34th with 27 points, 107 points out of first. Smith didn’t accumulate any points because he is a fulltime driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the 500 on Sunday, March 15 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 3 p.m.