NNS Notes: Regan Smith retains early points lead

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After winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway one week ago, Regan Smith continued his solid start to 2014 by retaining the Nationwide Series points lead with an eighth-place showing today at Phoenix International Raceway.

The JR Motorsports driver now holds a five-point lead over Trevor Bayne, who finished one spot ahead of him in seventh place.

Altogether, it was another solid day for JRM, which had Kevin Harvick racing in their No. 88 car today. Harvick, always strong at Phoenix, was able to come away with a runner-up finish, while rookie driver Chase Elliott earned his first Top-10 finish in Nationwide competition with a ninth-place result.

After the race, Harvick said he was simply trying to “maintain” the second-place position due to his car being loose on restarts.

[Winner] Kyle [Busch] had the best car today,” he told the NASCAR Wire Service. “We probably finished where we should have.”

Brad Keselowski finished third from the pole position but a run-in with Daryl Harr on Lap 20 had the former Sprint Cup champion feeling some remorse.

Harr appeared to come down to the inside of Turn 1 but Keselowski was unable to slow himself down enough and tapped Harr, sending him spinning into the wall.

“It’s a lot like going down the freeway – you’re in the left lane, someone’s in the right lane and they switch lanes while you’re going a little bit faster,” Keselowski told ESPN in the first moments of the red flag that came out for rain with 32 laps to go (the race would not be restarted).

“You can’t react but it’s your fault because you’ve hit him from behind. I couldn’t slow down enough to keep from hitting him from behind and causing him to wreck. I feel bad for those guys. I know they’re trying their best to make it in this series, and it’s unfortunate.”

Keselowski suffered some front-end damage in the incident and had a long stop in the pits to tape it up. However, his pace was strong enough to make up the track position he lost.

Later in post-race, Keselowski talked about the loss of his Sprint Cup crew chief, Paul Wolfe, for tomorrow’s The Profit on CNBC 500. Wolfe has flown back to North Carolina to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

“We were definitely prepared [for that], but that doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned,” Keselowski said. “There is always concern. There is a reason Paul is the crew chief on the 2 car. He is a great guy, knows what he is doing and is our best guy from that perspective.

“There is always a concern there but you prepare the best you can and try to understand the personal significance of what it is to go through what he is going through. Hopefully it all goes great.”

Keselowski will look to win from the pole tomorrow.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “