As the NASCAR Nationwide Series nears the halfway point of the season with tonight’s Feed The Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway, points leader Regan Smith finds himself halfway closer to the rest of the field following last week’s road-course wreck.
Running in the top five with eight laps to go at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Smith fell victim to a chain-reaction wreck that sent him spinning out. The accident resulted in a season-worst 32nd-place finish that cut Smith’s 58-point lead nearly in half while doubling his blood pressure.
“You’re certainly not happy about it,” Smith said. “You’re certainly not happy about the way things went down toward the end of the race and the way that the driving turned into more slamming instead of actual racing.
“With that said, it’s in the rear-view mirror, and you can’t change that it took place the way that it did,” he continued. “All you can do is focus on going forward.”
That first step forward begins at 7:30 tonight with the dropping of the green flag for the 15th of what will be a 33-race season.
Smith leads Justin Allgaier, who finished second at Road America to leapfrog Sam Hornish Jr. into second place, by a mere 28 points. Hornish is only 30 back, and Austin Dillon, who has won the last two Nationwide races at Kentucky, sits 45 back in fourth place.
“One of the reasons that we’ve worked as hard as we have this year not only to get the points lead but to try to have the points lead be that large was in case something like that did happen somewhere and we crossed bad luck,” said Smith, who has finished in the top 10 in 11 of 14 races this season with two wins (Talladega and Michigan).
“I would much rather be the one being chased from 28 points out in front than the one chasing from 28 points behind.”
Despite Smith’s standing as the points leader, the man to beat tonight may be Dillon, who dominated last year’s June race at Kentucky Speedway by leading 192 of the 200 laps while beating runner-up Kurt Busch to the finish line by more than nine seconds.
He returned to Victory Lane in September, leading 65 laps and beating Hornish to the finish line by 1.059 seconds.
“It was awesome,” Dillon said of his victories last year, especially the one in June because it came against a lot of Cup drivers in the field, as will be the case tonight.
“I’m glad they’re here again this year so we can go after them hard. I’m pretty confident, but it’s different. We’ve got a different tire this year and the track is different, so we’ll see what we can do.”
The 23-year-old Dillon went on to win the Nationwide Rookie of the Year award last year after capturing the same honor in the Camping World Truck Series in 2010.
Among the Cup drivers in tonight’s field are Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Keselowski is the defending Sprint Cup champion who won the 2012 Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, while Busch won the inaugural Cup race at the track in 2011 and also owns a victory and three top-five finishes in five Nationwide starts at the track.