11 YEARS LATER... SMITH FINDS HIMSELF BACK IN VICTORY LANE
“Daytona-Like” Pack Racing Takes Out Many Big Guns by Jeremy Troiano
It was an emotional Victory Lane to say the least. And there were very few people that weren't happy to see the victor there.
Stanley Smith, 11 years after his last NASCAR-sanctioned victory, and 11 years after nearly being killed in a vicious accident at Talladega Superspeedway (AL) that left many people little hope that he'd live, let alone race, captured Saturday evening's Kentucky 100 at Kentucky Speedway in the NASCAR Southeast Series race.
Smith, who races with a patch over his left eye because of permanent damage done from the accident 11 years ago, took the lead from Greg Pope on lap 32 and never looked back. Smith stayed out of, and most of the time ahead of, all of the wrecks on the track and cruised to the seemingly easy victory.
“That is what happens when you have a car that handles that good and you don’t have to let off the gas the entire night. I don’t think I let off the entire time we ran here tonight.
“I just kept thinking what might happen with 15 or 10 to go. After that first restart when I pulled out into such a lead, I knew we had to race
hard unless I thought something was going to happen. When that wreck happened right at the end, I hit something and thought I had something break on my car. I started to come in, but we kept wiggling the car and decided that we’d take a chance and stay out there. It was a good decision.”
Obviously, Smith was overjoyed at being back in Victory Lane... and knowing that it came at a speedway.
“I run well on speedways. I shouldn’t have a knack for these tracks because I nearly got killed at Talladega in 1993, but I always like the big tracks where you got a lot more room to race and maneuver.
It was a happy victory lane for Stanley Smith. (51 Photo)
“It means a bunch, the crew has needed a win. You get disgusted, down and don’t feel like going to the shop. This is what keeps you going again, when you get back to the track and start running good. It’s good to run at places like Kentucky, cause with a plate, you have to outfox everybody. Right there at the end I was using lap car's draft as much as I could before I jumped by. That’s the stuff I learned in the 90s at Talladega and Daytona and stuff. It’s good to run these tracks like you run those tracks.
“I’ve felt like something was missing for a few years, but now it’s over.”
Smith (#49) used a great car and misfortune by plenty of others (like Jeff Fultz's #54) to win. (High Sierra Photo)
The race was one that featured plenty of exciting and hairy moments.
As the race took the green, Jeff Fultz and Erik Darnell led the field to the green. Coming into turn three, Fultz washed up the track and banged with Darnell, opening the bottom lane for Indianapolis (IN) businessman Ray Skillman to grab the lead.
The very next lap, Darnell distanced himself from Skillman and Fultz and took the lead.
With the Southeast cars running restrictor plates, it kept the cars tightly bunched together early. And much like Daytona or Talladega with the Nextel Cup or Busch Series, “the big one” was inevitable. It happened, not once, but twice. And while the “big ones” didn't involve that many cars each time, it took out some of the best cars in the field.
The first accident came on lap six when Chris Davidson, racing side-by-side with Jason Hogan, got “aero loose” and
Pack racing at Kentucky made for some exciting and scary moments. (High Sierra)
spun in turn four. Davidson collected Hogan and AJ Frank and all three slammed into the outside wall. Newcomer Daniel Mientak came along as the cars were spinning and also slammed into the wall.
All four cars were eliminated from the event.
The second “big one” happened among the leaders on lap 40. With Smith in the lead, Southern All Star points leader Gary Helton, who was running second, got a tap from third-place and charging JR Norris, sending Helton and Norris around.
Helton slammed into the outside wall while Norris spun harmlessly to the inside of the track. With the cars still in a tight pack, the cars of Pope, Darnell and Wayne Bowen were all also involved. Pope's, Helton's and Bowen's cars were heavily damaged, as was Darnell's. However, Darnell and his crew were able to fix the car good enough to make a couple of extra laps and pick up a couple of extra positions. Norris continued on after several pit stops to fix some cosmetic damage to his ride.
The race went relatively incident free from then on until lap 77, when an arrant piece of lead on the track, was hit by several cars.
Norris, who had made it back up to second following his early accident, hit the piece of lead first. It did just minor damage to the front of his #5 Richie Wauter's owned car. Fultz, running in third right behind Norris wasn't as lucky.
Jason Hogan and AJ Frank were two of the drivers taken out in the first big accident (top), and Greg Pope, JR Norris, Gary Helton and others were invovled in the second (bottom). (High Sierra Photos)
The lead went right through Fultz's radiator, essentially knocking him out of the race. When the lead hit Fultz's radiator, it spread water all over the track. Unfortunately, Fultz's teammate Kevin Prince, who was running sixth at the time, hit the water and slammed into the turn three wall, ending his night as well.
Again, Norris recovered from his problems and was able to cruise home second, followed by third-place and first-time Southeast Series running Bradly Reithmeyer, a ROMCO Series regular from Texas who was driving a backup car to Robert Richardson.
““This was awesome,” said Reithmeyer. “First, I want to thank Richardson for letting us borrow the car. The car was good. We needed a little more gear to put the car in a better position. We had great equipment and are excited about the finish.”
All of the chaos that ensued meant the points shuffled dramatically heading into the series' season finale next weekend at Nashville's Music City Motorplex. Fultz, after finishing 15th, lost some major ground in his points lead and now stands just 67 points ahead of Norris, who trailed by over 110 heading into Kentucky. Darnell dropped from second to third in the standings after his accident, but is just 70 points out of the top spot.