Smith’s win at Darlington is the surprise of the year

Regan Smith won the Southern 500 on Saturday night in Darlington. Smith started the race a season worst 23rd and for most of the night was hidden from the frames of America’s televisions. Then Smith and his crew gambled and stayed on the track while the leaders opted to pit leading up to the checkered.

Smith wasn’t the one car who didn’t pit. He just was the only one who finished ahead of Carl Edwards. Smith held off Edwards during a green white checker finish thanks in part to a push on the final restart from Brad Keselowski.

While everyone was watching the antics of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, a fresh face was doing donuts at the oldest track on the schedule and finding his way to victory lane.

It’s not so much that anyone doubted Smith and the #78 could run a fast lap, it’s that they could actually be competitive in a race. Smith had ran 104 career races and had notched just one top-10, that coming at this years Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne won that race but Smith winning at Darlington may be a more impressive feat for a number of reasons.

Bayne was fielded a car that was ultimately a Roush-Fenway car in Wood Brothers colors. When Bayne crashed the car in the Gatorade Duel, Jack Roush told the youngster that he could rebuild him another. We also knew Bayne was capable of the bump draft, he ran well in practice prior to the race and he even had four-time champion Jeff Gordon wanting him to work with him at the Super Speedway,

Regan Smith had a team that has been muddled in the pack in points for the last few years, a team that while they had shown good runs within a race always seemed to be outside the top-10, and to top it off he didn’t even qualify well.

Smith went on to win what is still considered the most physically demanding track on the circuit. Sure he didn’t do it with blazing speed, or even a run that saw him up front all night but he did it.

The #78 car took a gamble on Saturday night and it paid off. Even had Smith not held off Edwards and won the race it’s likely he still would have topped the seventh he ran at Daytona. Smith held off Carl Edwards and took a team that had one top-10 in 136 races since it was created in 2005 and found victory lane. That has to account for something.