|Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR|
Smith’s victory was one that was long overdue and a definite redemption after he was deprived of an apparent victory at Talladega in 2008. Smith was black-flagged after driving below the yellow out-of-bounds line while fending off Tony Stewart for the win.
“This is no knock against Talladega at all, but I would trade in a lot of Talladega wins for one win in the Southern 500,” said Smith. “This race is so special and so meaningful. We were standing there looking at the names and the faces on the trophy, and you just look at it, and you think, ‘My face is going to be there right next to these guys, and it’ll be there forever.’ ”
After Saturday night’s race, many were worried that the chaos between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch would overshadow Smith’s first visit to victory lane, but the truth is - Smith himself was unaware of the feud between his fellow drivers.
"I have no clue what happened in the race other than us winning,” said Smith. “You know what, if that’s what’s talked about next week, so be it. I don’t care.”
“It’s not going to take away from the feeling I’ve got right now."
In the final laps of the Southern 500, Smith and his crew chief Pete Rondeau made the decision to stay on the track as the leaders pitted for tires under the 10th caution of the night.
Smith (who started the race in 23rd), Brad Keselowski and Stewart all elected to stay out resulting in Smith becoming the race leader for the restart on Lap 362.
Once again, Smith found himself fighting against Stewart in the final laps of the race but this time it would be Carl Edwards who he would eventually hold off for the win.
Although strategy played a big roll in how Smith’s night would end, holding off a charging Edwards would be no easy feat. As the pair raced through Turn 2, Smith made contact with the wall but was able to remain in control and crossed the finish line 0.196 seconds ahead of Edwards in a green-white-checkered finish.
The fireworks exploded both on and off the track as Smith celebrated in victory lane while Harvick and Busch continued their battle on pit road. Although much of the media attention seemed to be centered around the fighting between the No. 29 and No. 18 teams of Harvick and Busch respectively, this did not seem to deter from the excitement of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.
After all, Smith’s victory also meant a win for the sport’s smaller scale teams. Smith’s team, Furniture Row Racing is a single-car organization operating out of Denver, Colo., and the only Sprint Cup team to operate out in the midwest.
The team uses chassis from Richard Childress Racing, engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines and a loaned pit crew from Stewart Haas Racing.
"Everybody said, 'For how long? You can't race outside of Charlotte, the 20-mile radius where all the teams are. You can't do it,'" Smith said. "We've been doing it every week."
Prior to his victory, Smith went 105 races without any wins and had only one career top-10 (seventh in this year’s Daytona 500).
In Saturday’s race at Darlington, not only was Smith able to hold his own (running on old tires) against current Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards but he has also earned himself a spot in some of the most coveted events in the sport.
Following his win, Smith is now eligible to compete in the Sprint All-Star race and if he can make the top-20 in points, will become a contender for the Sprint Cup title (he is currently 27th in points).
Smith has also earned the respect of his fellow drivers and those who may have doubted his abilities along with the capabilities of his single-car team.
“Regan is as good as any driver out there,” said Edwards, runner-up in Saturday’s Southern 500. “Those guys have earned what they have. They've been out qualifying everyone. It's just a matter of time before they put a whole race together. Myself included, all of us underestimated them a little bit. But that will occur no longer."