Talladega, AL – When the Nationwide Series competes at Talladega Superspeedway, you can expect that race to feature big crashes and a very close finish.
That was certainly the case in Saturday's Aaron's 312, which was delayed for more than three hours due to rain. Qualifying for Sunday's 500-mile Sprint Cup Series race was washed out here earlier in the day.
The scheduled 117-lap Nationwide event began at 5:18 p.m. local time, but NASCAR informed teams in the closing stages that it would be trimmed by 10 laps due to darkness approaching.
It actually went a few extra laps from the anticipated cutoff when Joey Coulter crashed into the wall in the closing laps, which forced a caution and setup a green-white-checkered finish.
Regan Smith charged from seventh to first during a frantic last-lap around this 2.66-mile superspeedway. After pushing help from his JR Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, Smith drove down the track and then passed several cars in the tri-oval area. He pulled ahead of Joey Logano by just inches for the lead when NASCAR officials displayed the caution flag for a major crash involving seven cars that occurred on the frontstretch.
Kahne had crossed the line in first in a three-wide photo finish with Smith and Logano. But officials did not declare a race winner for several minutes, as they reviewed the finish. They determined Smith was the leader when the yellow flag came out.
Smith earned his second career Nationwide victory. His maiden win came last November in the season-finale at Homestead, Fla. He made his first start with JR Motorsports in that race.
"That was pretty cool, wasn't it?" said Smith, who drives the No. 7 car for JRM in Nationwide this year. "I have to thank Kasey for sticking with me at the end. Coming down the backstretch, I thought we were going to take fifth or sixth, and that's how it's going to be. The leaders got all jammed up in (turn) 3, and I had a run at it, so I made a move. I wasn't sure if I was clear enough, but I figured it was the only chance I have to win the race. I wanted to make that move and see if it would pay off for us. It did, and I'm really pumped up."
Logano, who won this race last year, was credited with second place. He made his first Nationwide start this season after winning a series-high nine races last year. He is in his first year with Penske Racing.
"It was so close, and it's so frustrating," Logano said. "Second sometimes sucks."
Logano has finished no worse than third in the past five Nationwide races at Talladega.
Kahne ended up finishing third, while Kurt Busch and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top-five.
"I was really surprised that (NASCAR) threw that caution when so many times they wouldn't in that situation," Kahne said. "I thought we would have went to the line, but I saw the caution before I got to the line, so I knew I didn't win."
Finishing sixth through 10th were Parker Kligerman, Mike Wallace, Jason White, Jeremy Clements and Austin Dillon, who bounced from a one-lap deficit due to a spark plug issue in the early going. Dillon had to make a lengthy pit stop during a caution for a spark plug change. He led the way for the final two-lap restart and then continued to run in front when the white flag came out for the last lap.
The first big wreck -- involving 11 cars -- happened on lap 94 when Sam Hornish Jr. got forced down the track while running in a tight pack of cars and then bumped into Johanna Long, triggering the accident in turn 3.
"It was unfortunate and obviously frustrating, but at the end of the day, it's hard to see over there for the spotters, so I don't know if the spotter didn't say that I was there," Hornish said.
Hornish's 25th-place finish allowed Smith to take over the points lead. Smith entered this race only one point behind Hornish. He is now 27 markers in front of him.
Travis Pastrana, the pole sitter, was involved in a scary wreck on lap 73 when he slammed hard into the outside wall along the backstretch. The incident occurred when Brian Scott bumped Reed Sorenson from behind and spun him. Sorenson made contact with Scott again before his car turned around and lifted slightly up into the air. Pastrana ran right into Sorenson, causing his car to shoot up the track and into the wall.
"I don't know what happened, but we were up there in the front and got tangled up in somebody else's mess," Pastrana said. "I just want to thank (team owner) Jack Roush and all the team for giving me a great weapon out there, and I think we definitely could have put it on top if we just kind of had a little more patience. I've just got to swallow my ego next time and stop being up front. We could run a half-lap down, and I think we still could have charged to the end, but now that's over."
Pastrana, a former action sports star who is now a full-time competitor in Nationwide, won his first pole for a NASCAR national touring race on Friday. He also led laps -- the first four -- for the first time in his Nationwide career.
Danica Patrick's second Nationwide race this season came to an end early when she was involved in a crash with her Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, a rookie in the series this year, on lap 15. Patrick made contact with the wall in turn 3 when Larson bumped her from behind. She ended up finishing 39th.
"I know Kyle is clearly a talented driver, and he's done great things already," Patrick said. "There might have been room for him to come off of me a little bit there when he saw me move around up the track, but that was probably a little bit of inexperience I guess."
The race, which was completed in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 44 seconds, featured 47 lead changes among 16 drivers and 7 cautions for 29 laps.