Regan Smith scored his first-ever Nationwide Series victory when he captured the Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday evening. The New York-state native ran with the leaders throughout and vaulted into the lead near the end to win the series finale.
Leading 24 laps, the victor drove the Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet fielded by JR Motorsports. And the race marked his first Nationwide event since 2007 and his first with the Earnhardt team, a tune-up of sorts for a full-time commitment with them in 2013.
I am pretty pumped up about driving for them next year.
“This (win) feels great,” the winner said. “Outside the championship winners, there aren’t too many leaving here happy. I was fortunate enough to hop into this car before the season was over. I have to thank Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., Kelley Earnhardt-Miller and Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) for letting me drive these things. And I am pretty pumped up about driving for them next year.
“Steve (Letarte) made some great pit calls and we got the car dialed in. Until that point, we didn’t have first run speed, so we needed to make adjustments to have the speed we needed. On old tires, I don’t think there was a car in the field that could compete with us. Our goal was to come down here and get information for next year. I don’t want to look past this win, but I think there were places that we can improve upon.”
Said Letarte, “The races are always fun when you have a fast car. We were fortunate enough to have Regan in the car when Dale was out, and we saw how much talent he had. I only called the race and voted on the set-up as the other team members did the work. They put a remarkable piece out there.”
According to Earnhardt, the team didn’t plan to race here until two weeks ago, seeking to get a head start on the upcoming season.
In the race, Kyle Busch was once again in the mix and after dominating the first half of the race and leading 84 laps, he dropped back for an extended period but recovered to finish second. He drove the Monster Energy Toyota.
“We had a superfast car earlier,” he said. “The first adjustment was okay and the next few weren’t so good, slowing us down. After the last pit stop, the car got better and I was running guys down. After the last pit stop, I restarted 10th and I put my head down and drove as hard as I could.”
Regarding his somewhat dismal season without any wins, Busch stated, “Tonight I found another way to lose a race. To see Regan (Smith) win in his first night out is good but for me this season, I tossed away more races than I have had in my whole career. I seem to be able to get lots of seconds and thirds but no wins. I think it is pretty well documented that this has been the worst year of my career bar none. It is a huge disappointment. I could have won three races in recent weeks but I didn’t do it.”
Said the glib driver, “We were fast all night, and my team gave me a Chevrolet that could run up there. That’s been the story of my season with Richard Childress Racing to prove that I can run up there, and tonight was not an exception. At the end, I got a great run on the outside and our Chevrolet went to the front and caught Kyle Busch, which is not easy to do. But I tried too hard with two to go and put the Chevrolet into the wall trying to get one more spot.”
Gaughan said at one point he got involved with the three drivers battling for the championship, so he backed off to the dismay of his crew chief.
Sam Hornish Jr. finished fourth in a Dodge.
Championship contender Austin Dillon ended up fifth, also in a Chevrolet.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought his Ford home in sixth place and in doing so, he became the sixth driver to win consecutive Nationwide Series championships. The Mississippi native needed to finish 16th or better to secure the coveted crown.
For the race finish, Brian Scott finished seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth, Sadler ninth and Cole Whitt 10th.
Danica Patrick raced to a 13th place finish and she ended up 10th in points, becoming the first female in NASCAR racing to achieve a top-10 outcome.
Five caution flags slowed the race for 24 laps. Each incident was relatively minor in nature, except for Johanna Long’s head-first thrust into a wall.