Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Sprint Cup [Print without images]

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Smith sees room for more surprises

By David Newton
ESPN.com

DOVER, Del. -- You're Kurt Busch and you have been the recent center of attention for profanity-laced comments about your team over the in-car radio.

Now you're being asked to comment on whether your past issues with Kevin Harvick led the Richard Childress Racing driver to have a strong dislike for your younger brother Kyle.

And your brother put you in this awkward position by saying he may be a by-product of your relationship with the driver he is sharing a four-race probation with for last week's post-race confrontation at Darlington.

What do you say?

"OK, right. Let's congratulate Regan Smith on his win last week," Kurt said with a smile Friday at Dover International Speedway. "I don't think he's gotten any coverage whatsoever. He did a great job to win that race. Congratulations to Furniture Row Racing."

Nice two-step.

But don't feel sorry for Smith or his Denver-based one-car team as he prepares for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at the Monster Mile. He has gotten plenty of attention since making the Southern 500 his first win in the Sprint Cup Series.

He has done more than 60 interviews, and hardly a person in the garage hasn't offered congratulations the past couple of days. Team owner Barney Visser has gotten his share of attention, too, including a phone call from the governor of Colorado.

This remains the feel-good story of the year, bigger than Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers winning the Daytona 500, because the Wood Brothers have won before.

As Kyle Busch said when debating whether he or Harvick ever could be friends -- and we have concluded they won't -- and whether their pit-road confrontation brought a lot of visibility to the sport, "There should also be a lot of attention drawn to the sport with Regan Smith and … him winning his first race in NASCAR at the Southern 500 and getting his name locked into the All-Star race."

He's right. If fans got as excited about Smith's story as they did about Busch and Harvick, the governing body might not be so worried that penalties and fines will temper aggression and personalities.

"That was definitely really cool," Kyle said of Smith's win. "All of us racers will say that was the bigger story."

Smith thought it was the only story until about an hour after the race when he finally heard what happened on pit road with Busch and Harvick.

"Since then, I've seen it on TV," he said. "I don't think it took away at all from the win. This is a big sport, and fortunately we have a lot of media that cover NASCAR and there can be more than one story in a week. It doesn't just have to be one story.

"At the end of the day, that's what makes our sport great is you've got the story of us out of Denver being able to win the race and then you've got these guys over here fighting on pit road. That's what NASCAR is all about. It's excitement."

What would make Smith's story bigger is if he found his way into the top 20 -- he's 27th, 29 points out -- and qualified for the Chase as a wild card. It's a long shot, as tough as it is for drivers outside the top 15 to make up spots under the new points system.

Bobby Labonte and Regan Smith
Former Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte and Regan Smith, two drivers on small teams, have a chat at Dover.

And Dover isn't a particularly good place for Smith, who has an average finish of 27.0 here, with no finish better than 21st.

But now he has momentum, and the win does open the door for possibilities that weren't there a week ago.

"Obviously, I've got confidence and we just need to go with the flow and who knows?" Smith said.

Anytime the so-called little guy wins it makes for a great story. There are others out there like Smith and Bayne who soon could break through in the win column, maybe even make the Chase.

There's AJ Allmendinger, 11th in points with two top-10s this season and two top-10s in his past three races at Dover. There's Paul Menard, 18th with two top-5s and a seventh his last trip here.

There's David Ragan, who is 19th in points and easily could have won the Daytona 500 had he not switched lanes early on the final restart.

"There's quite a few," Smith said. "It's so competitive."

As for Kurt and the impact his relationship with Harvick has on his brother, did you think he could bite his lip forever? After the brief deflection to Smith, he did continue.

"For that issue, I'd say who hasn't Harvick had an issue with?" Kurt said. "Everybody has had run-ins. You name it and everybody has had run-ins with other guys. I mean, who knows?"

Exactly.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.