Regan Smith scores wild NNS win at Talladega

Leave a comment

In a green-white-checkered finish that can be best described as Quintessential Talladega, Regan Smith emerged as the winner of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 after racing Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano to the stripe while a multi-car wreck ensued behind them on the frontstretch.

Kahne actually won the three-way drag race, but the crash caused NASCAR to bring out the caution to freeze the field. After a review, the series decided that Smith was in the lead at the moment the field was frozen, giving the JR Motorsports driver the win.

“First and foremost, we don’t do it without [Kahne] pushing us,” Smith told ESPN in Victory Lane. “I gotta thank Kasey – he stuck with me at the end. Coming down the backstretch, I thought, ‘Oh, we’re gonna take fifth or sixth and that’s how it’s gonna go.’ The guys that were leading — I can’t even tell you the order they were in, I just saw cars at that point — they got all jammed up in [Turn] 3.

“We had a run and I made a move. I wasn’t really sure if I was clear or not, but I figured it was the only chance I had to win the race. I wanted to make that move and see if it would pay off for us. It did.”

Kahne, who wound up finishing second, admitted that he was “surprised” that NASCAR opted to throw the yellow at that point instead of having the field race back to the line.

“So many times, they wouldn’t in that situation,” he said to ESPN. “And I won at the finish line…We had a really good [car] and worked with Regan really well, and with a few different guys throughout the race. And we were right there.

“NASCAR always switches it up, so you never know what’s going to happen. I was surprised they threw the caution; I thought we would’ve went to the line. But I saw the caution before I got to the line, so I knew I didn’t win.”

With darkness setting in and the lack of a lighting system at their disposal, NASCAR shortened the event to 107 laps after Talladega’s infamous “Big One” hit on Lap 94 following contact between Sam Hornish Jr. and Johanna Long. The field saw the green come back with seven laps remaining, but Joey Coulter was spun on the frontstretch and hit the wall with three to go to set up the G-W-C finish.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

Follow@KyleMLavigne