Smith charged from seventh to first on the final lap of a green-white-checker finish and surged ahead of Joey Logano when the caution flag came out, making Smith the winner and the new Nationwide points leader.
Smith’s victory also put a Junior Motorsports driver atop the Nationwide points standings for the first time. He moved from one point down to Sam Hornish Jr. at the start of the race to 27 points ahead of him at the end.
“I’m real happy for Regan, and the whole group,” Junior Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Really, they’ve has been working so hard, so many late nights, trying to get faster, trying to find that extra best speed that they need, trying to be as good as they can be.”
Junior Motorsports actually had it covered, no matter how NASCAR ruled the finish. Another Junior driver, Kasey Kahne, nosed across the finish line first in a photo finish, but NASCAR’s caution call had frozen Smith’s lead.
Officially, Logano finished second and Kahne third.
“It worked out good,” said Smith, who bagged his second Nationwide Series victory and first this year. “It easily could have been a 1-2, depending on where the flag was thrown and things like that, so we’ll take first and third, and we’re certainly happy for everyone at Junior Motorsports.”
Smith used drafting help from Kahne to charge from seventh place to start the final lap and catch the leaders in turn 4. Smith passed Kurt Busch on the inside for the lead.
Logano got loose from drafting partner Alex Bowman while trying to side-draft, which helped Smith gain the momentum to pass. Kahne tried to make his run on the outside of Logano, just as a fracas broke out behind the lead cars.
The last-lap crash started when Brian Vickers and drafting partner Elliott Sadler went below the yellow line near the front stretch. Sadler then Vickers inched back up, and Sadler’s car hooked Vickers’ from behind, turning it up the track.
The resulting wreck collected seven cars and drew the quick caution from NASCAR.
Kahne said he saw the yellow caution light against the dusking sky before he crossed the finish line. He was surprised the caution call came so quickly.
“I think there have been plenty of times when there have been wrecks in (turns) 4 and 3, and we still raced to the line at the end. … I still raced to the line, and we had a good enough run to get there and be first there, but I was kind of surprised the caution came out,” he said.
Saturday’s race started three hours late, and NASCAR used a lap-93 caution to announce plans to shorten the race from 117 to 107 laps because of pending darkness. It wound up going 110 laps because of wrecks and the green-white-checker finish.
Raindrops also goosed aggression in the final laps, causing three wrecks from lap 93 on.
NASCAR announced the green-white-checker finish after Justin Allgaier nudged Joey Coulter from behind on the outside line in the tri-oval on lap 105, sending Coulter’s car into the wall.
The first major wreck flared in turn 3 on lap 93, when previous points leader Sam Hornish Jr. tried to split upper and lower lines for a brief opening. Hornish made contact with Eric McClure and Johanna Long, both charging from behind in the middle lane.
The chain-reaction melee sucked in 11 cars and knocked Hornish out of the race.
“We came up to a couple of cars that were not hooked up with anybody, and there was a full car width in between the 14 (McClure) and the 70 (Long),” Hornish said. “I started to fill that hole, and, as soon as I got committed to filling that hole, the 70 decided – whether it was air or not knowing I was down there – came down six inches to a foot, which was just enough to turn me down in front of the 14.”
The race also lost pole-sitter Travis Pastrana on lap 72, when Reed Sorenson tried to work up the track on the backstrectch and clipped the front end of Brian Scott’s car. Pastrana, coming from just behind with drafting partner Trevor Bayne in tow, tried to dodge low, got turned up the track by Sorenson and slammed into the outside wall before settling in the soggy grass.
“We were hooked up. We were great,” Pastrana said. “I practiced with the 43 car (Sorenson), and we had a strategy, and that was to stay in the back after we can try to lead a lap.
“I don’t know what happened, but we were up there in the front and got tangled up in somebody else’s mess.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.