He held off the rookie in the final 14 laps to win the Alliance Truck Parts 250 at Michigan International Speedway and extend his lead in the series standings. He took the checkered flag minutes before a light rain began to fall on the race track.
Parker Kligerman gambled rain would end the race short of the scheduled 125 laps but lost the lead when he had to pit with 13 to go. That opened the door for Smith, who kept his No. 7 Chevy ahead of a charging Larson in the final 10 laps.
“I felt confident even though he was drafting up to me,” said Smith, who found himself near the front after a Lap 99 stop for fuel.
“It seemed like once we got the car out front it really came to life. (Crew chief) Greg (Ives) made some really good calls to get us the track position.”
Ives said he did all he could to make sure his driver got as close to the front of the pack as he could in the closing laps.
“The strategy was to get him up front and let him get confident and comfortable,” he said.
It made for a pleasant homecoming for Ives, a native of Bark River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
There was no caution flag after Austin Dillon brushed the wall with five laps to go and Larson, who was steadily gaining on Smith in the closing laps, never got a chance to take the lead.
Sprint Cup Series regular Paul Menard gave Chevy a sweep of the top three spots and Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top-five finishers.
It was the second win of the season and third career series win for Smith, who also was first at Talladega in early May. It’s the 11th straight time he’s finished in the top 10.
Smith, who started 11th, paid tribute to late driver Jason Leffler by displaying a decal over the door pillar of his car and promised a portion of his $45,440 winnings to the trust fund created to assist Leffler’s 5-year-old son.
Leffler, a two-time winner on the Nationwide circuit, died last week after his sprint car crashed at a dirt track in New Jersey. A moment of silence in his honor was held before the start of the race.
Larson, the series’ top rookie, finished in the top five for the fourth time this season and matched his career-best runner-up finish at Bristol.
“It’d be nice to hurry up and get the win,” he said. “I think it’s coming soon. We’re getting better every week. Once we go to the tracks a second time I hopefully should start out the races better and hopefully maintain track position.”
Drivers qualified under warm conditions earlier in the day but took the green flag under overcast, muggy skies that made the track slick. The forecast was threatening, but rain never came.
Pole winner Dillon looked strongest in the first half of the race but opted not to pit with the rest of the lead pack after a lap 64 caution. A flat left-rear tire soon dropped him a lap down and he ended the day 20th after his late-race contact with the wall.
Joey Logano took the lead after a lap 86 restart but gave it to Kligerman when he pitted 13 laps later. Kligerman was 19th in the unofficial standings but was dropped to 25th after speeding onto pit road for his final stop.
Dillon set a new track qualifying record with a lap of 191.882 mph earlier in the day to earn his fourth straight Coors Light Pole Award, a Nationwide Series record.
It was the second straight hard-luck outing for Dillon, who led 207 of 250 laps a week earlier at Iowa but finished second to Bayne.
Sam Hornish Jr., who started the day second in the standings, left the race on lap 81 after a piece of debris broke his oil pump. It dropped him to 32nd and widened his deficit in the standings.
Hornish fell from 23 points behind Smith to 58. Justin Allgaier crept to just a point behind him.
“There is nothing wrong with our Roush Yates engine other than we hit a piece of debris,” Hornish said. “We knew we had a good car that was capable of winning. It just wasn’t our day.”
The race wasn’t quite a lap old before the first caution came out. Alex Bowman and Travis Pastrana spun in turn 4 before Brian Vickers crashed into Jeffrey Earnhardt. The latter two cars sustained significant damage.
Vickers, seventh in the series points standings before the start of the race, got back on the track but finished 33rd, 45 laps off the lead. The lead dropped him back to 10th in the standings.
Dexter Stacey brought out the day’s second yellow flag when he struck the turn 3 wall on lap 7.