Scott, Smith leave Mid-Ohio with mixed feelings
August 16, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- For a pair of top-three finishers, Regan Smith and Brian Scott sure were grumpy.
To be fair, nearly every driver save for the one standing in Victory Lane after a road course race such as Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course typically is, so they had every right to be.
Smith, a longtime critic of how drivers tend to act towards the end of such races, certainly didn't gain any evidence to the contrary as things got chippy towards the end of the race as he fought to catch up to eventual race-winner Chris Buescher.
Meanwhile, Scott was forced to recover from a bizarre tangle with road course specialist Alex Tagliani, piloting last year's race-winning Team Penske No. 22 Ford, in which the Canadian driver appeared to intentionally run Scott off the road -- with no penalty.
"First off, I was proud of how we ran today," said Scott, who is fifth in the Nationwide Series standings. "I was proud of the speed we had. It was a special race for us. To have (Nationwide Children's Hospital 'patient champion') Avery Neely design our car, make it out from Nationwide Children's Hospital and be our special guest was really cool and really neat to meet her family. I really wanted to celebrate with them in Victory Lane. I guess that's why it makes it all the more heartbreaking when I felt like we were the car to beat.
"I just had a run-in with a guy that doesn't race in our series regularly. Even still, he got into the side of me and I didn't hurt him, he missed a corner then drove me into the grass. Then (he) put me in the grass more and clogged our grille and made us change our pit strategy because we were blowing water and that chain of events right there put us behind the guys that we ultimately were racing with at the end to win. I don't think that would have happened had that incident not happened."
Tagliani finished fifth, lining his car up on pit road two spots behind that of the Richard Childress Racing driver. And while -- somewhat surprisingly -- there were no post-race fireworks between the drivers, it still left a sour taste in Scott's mouth.
To have a non-series regular come in and nearly risk his shot at a competitive finish in the midst of a championship race would be enough to irk anyone, let alone a race car driver.
"It's just the nature of the beast when those guys come in and they're supposed to be the road course specialists and they only do the one-off races. I think they feel like they have something to prove and they certainly drive like they do. He kind of squeaked it in a corner that you normally wouldn't have and I swung wide and gave him room and I guess he proceeded to miss the corner and he drove us into the dirt on exit and that happened, but then while I was in the dirt, he was still driving me deeper into the dirt. So I guess just getting four (of my) tires off the pavement wasn't good enough for him. It's just how it is."
As for Smith, his runner-up finish keeps him within reach of his JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott's points lead, which is now down to 10 after Elliott finished fourth.
However, it's just his second top-five finish across eight series starts at Mid-Ohio, Road America and his home track Watkins Glen, something that he doesn't necessarily attribute to the speed of his car.
"I'm happy and frustrated all at the same time," Smith said. "…I think our average start (on road courses) has been sixth, our average mid-race has been fourth and our average finish before today has been like 17th. So, I don't like what happens at the end of the races when cautions start flying and guys just start using everybody up and forgetting that this is still a race and we should race the same way here as we do at other places. Just because you can drive into the back of somebody and push three cars out of the way doesn't mean you should. So that's the part of road racing I don't like."
While Smith continues his search for win number two of the season, he seemed to know in the closing laps that it wasn't coming at Mid-Ohio unless Buescher either ran out of gas or a caution was thrown in the final three laps.
He admitted that his car wasn't as fast as the 60 -- largely due to Buescher having the advantage of clean air -- but he also gave credit to the Roush Fenway Racing driver for not making the kinds of mistakes typically shown by drivers leading late, knowing that their first win is around the corner.
It also might have to do with the fact that Buescher, who flat out didn't make the cut for the Daytona season-opener, might just be improving.
"He's shown a lot of speed at places this year," Smith said. "He's come a long ways fast throughout the course of the (22 races) we're into it. So that didn't surprise me. I was surprised that he made it (on fuel). I didn't have much more for him at the end there. I was sitting there watching and thinking that at any point he was going to run out and I saw him shaking there once on the last lap and thought he was running out there so I launched it into the carousel and about wrecked myself right there so that wasn't too smart.
"The record book doesn't say how you won. It just says you won."