There was nothing acceptable about Saturday’s result for Regan Smith unless he crossed the finish line ahead of everyone else. After aggressively going after Ty Dillon following a wild race at Watkins Glen, the former full-time Cup Series driver was determined to get back into Victory Lane.
The sweat and tears were visible in one of the most emotional victories of Smith’s NASCAR career since he made his debut in 2002. Winning for the first time since the season-opener at Daytona in 2014, the 31-year-old used the good ‘ol bump-and-run to get around IndyCar Series veteran Alex Tagliani for the triumph in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Leading 38 of the 75 laps, Tagliani appeared to be taking Team Penske to Victory Lane for the first time in his seventh Xfinity Series start. However, with Smith’s determination, he used his bumper in the final corner to take advantage of the No. 22 Ford, which overshot the entry of the turn. Smith now joins Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher as the lone NXS regulars with victories in 2015.
The caution-filled race provided fans just what they expected on Saturday afternoon. Bumping and banging was seen throughout the race, along with the perfect mixture of fuel strategy as seen in years past. With a handful of late-race cautions after a plethora of them occurring early in the event, Tagliani and Smith held off a hard-charging Dillon and Buescher to runaway from the field.
There were eight cautions during the race, which lasted 25 laps – 33% of the event. The race lasted two hours and 34 minutes, slightly more than three minutes quicker than last year’s contest, which was 90 laps.
Buescher maintained his 24-point lead ahead of Dillon following the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. Dillon is one point ahead of Chase Elliott, followed by Smith (-51), Elliott Sadler (-60), Darrell Wallace Jr. (-100), Daniel Suarez (-107), Brian Scott (-122), Brendan Gaughan (-123) and Ryan Reed (-178).
Dillon is continuing to prove he will have something for Buescher by the end of the season. His consistency has picked back up from what he started at the beginning of the year. With his third-place finish, he now has six top fives on the year and three in a row. Following in the footsteps of his brother, Austin Dillon, the younger sibling is attempting to win a title in preparation of possibly running a full-time Cup Series schedule in 2016.
Rookie Brandon Jones did not have the weekend he expected. Making his third NXS start, the 18-year-old finished 29th at Mid-Ohio. He spun out by himself in practice, and had a qualifying effort just inside of the top 20. For the second straight race, he finished outside of the top 15, which does not show how strong of a run he had going on Saturday after an eventful Friday. He was competing for a top 10 until his accident on lap 70, which was not of his doing. With a handful of starts remaining for him in 2015 in the division, he will need to be quite impressive, along with finishing out the Truck Series schedule on a high note.
It was a brutal race for Kenny Habul. Entering Mid-Ohio with high hopes after a solid run at Watkins Glen before getting into a late-race wreck, the CEO of SunEnergy 1 finished 28th in the No. 20 Toyota. He was involved in multiple incidents on the day, including one with teammate Boris Said. His beat-up car failed to surpass his best finish of 26th at the track, and he has one event remaining on his schedule at Road America.
Underdog Performer of the Race
For the first time in his career, Dylan Lupton finished inside of the top 10, ending the day in eighth. The Athenian Motorsports rookie ran inside of the top 15 throughout the event, making a late-race charge to get the No. 25 Chevrolet into the top 10. It’s the first time in 32 NXS starts for the organization that the yellow-soaked car has been inside of the top 10. Lupton finished runner-up in the K&N Pro Series West standings last season prior to signing a multi-race deal to make the jump to the NXS.
Double Duty Interlopers
The Final Word
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) August 15, 2015
The final word is Smith’s, along with the last laugh. His unbelievable run at the finish gives him momentum to finish the year on a high note. Though he claims the championship is out of reach, if he can record a few more wins, he might just be able to get back into the title hunt.
Winning the first time since Jason Burdett replaced Ryan Pemberton as the crew chief of the No. 7 car, Smith proved that JR Motorsports made the right decision. However, more importantly, the win puts him back into the conversation about possibly getting a Cup ride in the near future. The “super sub” has been closing in on a victory, and this is not just a road-course win. No. This is something that will carry over to the ovals, as Smith has shown the potential to race in the top-five on a weekly basis.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) August 15, 2015
On Saturday, we saw once again why the NXS needs more standalone races. Giving the opportunity for drivers like Lupton and Ben Rhodes to race in the top 10, they now have an addition on their resumes that could attract potential sponsors. With a handful of road-course “ringers” in the event – something that is missing from the road courses in the Cup Series – the mixture at Mid-Ohio gave the field flavor. There were drivers from five different countries in the race, and that is not normal for NASCAR competition. The sport needs to pick up the pace just like Smith did on Saturday, and it is very possible in the future.