After he took the checkered flag to win his first NASCAR race, an emotional Regan Smith, with his voice cracking, radioed his crew to tell them how proud and happy he was for the entire Furniture Row Racing organization.
The victory in Saturday night's SHOWTIME Southern 500 Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway was not only the first for Smith, but also the maiden win for the Denver-Colo.-based team.
The only other time Smith had a brush with victory was at the 2008 fall race in Talladega, Ala. when his apparent win as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc. was nullified by NASCAR for passing Tony Stewart below the out-of-bounds yellow line on the final lap.
But Saturday night at the 62-year-old historic Darlington Raceway, Smith was officially referred to as a NASCAR winner.
"I don't really know how to put it in words right now -- it is so surreal," said Smith, whose previous best finish was seventh in the season-opening Daytona 500.
As the jubiliant Smith was celebrating the Mother's Day weekend victory with his teammates, he took time to talk about his mother, Lee Smith, his biggest fan since he started racing as a 4-year-old in the Syracuse, N.Y. area.
"First and foremost to all the Moms out there, Happy Mother's Day," stated Smith. "My Mom is not here -- she's in Tuscaloosa, Alabama helping with some of the tornado recovery efforts with animals. 'Mom, hi, I love you. Sorry you missed this one.' "
Before the 27-year-old Smith showed his emotional side, he was a steadfast, hard-charging driver who refused to get passed in the final 11 laps even though his No. 78 Chevrolet was running on older tires.
Smith assumed the lead on Lap 360 as a result of not pitting for fresh tires during a caution. The gutsy decision to stay out, while running in the top six, was made by crew chief Pete Rondeau.
"Pete made a great pit call -- that won the race for us," noted Smith.
The soft-spoken Rondeau, who took over the crew chief duties nearly one year ago, said about the pit call, "It's a split-second decision. Sometimes you make out well with it and sometimes you don't. I was leaning one way and said, 'What the heck, we'll ask Regan where he's headed. He said we're both on the same page.' "
As he was positioned in front of the field, Smith tenaciously held off the challengers on the Lap 363 restart. But two laps later, the yellow flag waved again, sending the scheduled 367-lap race into overtime with a green-white-checkered finish.
For the second time, Smith held his ground in his Furniture Row Chevrolet, powered by an Earnhardt-Childress Racing (ECR) engine. He took the lead on the final restart and never looked back, crossing the finish line .196 of a second ahead of Carl Edwards.
Regarding the last restart, Smith said, "Carl was on the outside and he had fresh tires or fresher tires than I did. I spun them real bad on the first one (restart, Lap 360) and I just backed it up a notch on the second restart and went with it. It stuck and I held it wide open in (turns) one and two on the first lap and tried to hold it wide open in (turns) three and four also. The car was good when I got in clean air. I can't be more proud of this team."
The last lap did present a nail-biting moment for the Furniture Row team when Smith scraped the infamous Darlington wall.
"I hit the wall in turn two on the white-flag lap but the chances of me checking up there were about zero," explained Smith. "I could have torn the right front off and kept going. I don't think anybody realizes how much work has gone into getting this program where it is out of Colorado. Joe Garone (general manager), Barney Visser (owner), all of them. Man, we are in the All Star race! We have all kinds of cool stuff going on."
Yes, by virtue of the win, Smith automatically qualifies for the May 21st Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Smith, who entered the race as the top qualifier with a 7.1 average, started 23rd -- his worst qualifying effort of the season.
"The car was good all night, I don't think we made many big adjustments," said Smith.
He added, "I won a race at Darlington. The names who have won here...the Pearsons, Yarboroughs and on and on, you name it. I was sitting behind some of those guys today and I was thinking, 'Man, these guys are pretty awesome. They are legendary.' I don't know if my name deserves to be next to them, but after tonight, maybe it does."
Joe Garone, Furniture Row Racing general manager, talked about what the victory meant for the organization.
"This is not only a big deal for Barney (Visser, team owner), but also for Furniture Row Companies, which consists of Denver Mattress, Sofa Mart, Bedroom Expressions and Oak Express, for standing behind the team. It's been a long road. It's been six years building this team and literally from scratch. Tonight just solidifies all that hard work and shows the racing community that you can win races outside of the normal North Carolina area."
The congratulations were pouring in to Smith, especially from his fellow drivers -- Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr to name a few.
When asked about Smith's victory, Earnhardt said, “Well, Regan is an awesome talent and a really, really good person. It’s good to see a good guy win. And he’s worked really hard to get into this sport and to become a full-time driver in this series. And he deserves what they achieved tonight."
Furniture Row Racing PR