After staying out on old tires, Smith held off Carl Edwards to win Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in a dramatic green-white-checkered-flag finish.
Smith crossed the finish line .196 seconds ahead of runner-up Edwards.
“This is the Southern 500—we’re not supposed to win this thing,” an incredulous Smith radioed to his crew after the race.
Brad Keselowski, also on old tires, finished third, with polesitter Kasey Kahne running fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
The victory was redemption for Smith, who was deprived of an apparent victory at Talladega in 2008 when he was penalized for passing Tony Stewart below the yellow out-of-bounds line that separates the racing surface from the apron.
After a final round of green-flag pit stops, Edwards, the Sprint Cup points leader, passed Kahne for the lead as the cars sped into Turn 1. Edwards was comfortably in front when Jeff Burton’s engine blew and oiled the track with 10 laps left, causing the 10th caution of the night.
After Smith, Keselowski and Stewart stayed out, taking the top three spots under caution, Edwards climbed to second after a restart on Lap 363 of the scheduled 367-lap race. The previous caution, however, was only a prelude to a wild three-wide wreck involving Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch later that same lap. That set up the two-lap sprint as the race went to overtime, with Edwards and Smith taking the green flag side-by-side.
Kahne, Edwards and Harvick took turns out front during the second half of the race after Busch made an unscheduled pit stop.
Busch had led 78 laps when a vibration forced him to the pits on Lap 205. A caution for Jimmie Johnson’s spin on the frontstretch trapped Busch a lap down. The driver of the No. 18 didn’t get the lap back until he received a free pass as the highest scored lapped car for a restart on Lap 244.
Busch had worked his way up to 12th before NASCAR called the ninth caution of the race on Lap 280 for debris on the backstretch.