Once jilted, Regan Smith continues reignited love affair with Talladega

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While many of his Nationwide Series counterparts dread coming to Talladega SuperSpeedway, not Regan Smith.

He loves the place – even though earlier in his career, it didn’t love him back (finished 37th and 23rd in his first two NNS races there back in 2006 and 2007, respectively).

After winning last April’s NNS race at the 2.66-mile, high-banked restrictor plate track, Smith was hoping for a repeat win in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.

Smith came up a bit short, but he’ll still take a third-place finish Saturday to go along with last year’s visit to victory lane.

“These guys keep building fast speedway cars,” Smith said. “I love coming to these places with the kind of cars JR Motorsports gives us.”

Smith thought he had a chance for a second straight win coming off Turn 4, but Elliott Sadler and rookie Chris Buescher beat him to the finish line.

“I don’t know what I was trying to do (coming off Turn 4),” Smith said. “I was just trying to get to where I had a little daylight out in front of the race car and could finish off a move.”

He didn’t quite get it, but he did wind up with his second top-5 NNS finish this season.

“We needed that,” Smith said. “We’ve been in the top-10 all year long but we needed to get back in the top-5. We’ve been working hard, it’s been a little bit of a grind at times this year.”

Still, Smith has nothing to be ashamed of. He’s had nothing short of a spectacular season thus far. In nine starts, he has one win (season opener at Daytona), his third-place showing at Talladega and seven other top-10 finishes.

For a better example of that, since the second race of the season at Phoenix, he’s finished eighth, 10th, 10th, 10th, seventh, eighth, eighth and now third.

It doesn’t get much better consistency-wise than that. And while he dropped from second to third in the NNS standings, the damage wasn’t that bad: he’s just three points behind series leader Chase Elliott.

“I hate being able to see the flag and not getting there first,” Smith said, “but it was a good day nonetheless.”

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Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.