NASCAR: Regan Smith and the 10 Most Surprising Victories Since 2000

Luke KrmpotichContributor IIMay 9, 2011

NASCAR: Regan Smith and the 10 Most Surprising Victories Since 2000

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    Regan Smith's victory Saturday night at Darlington Raceway was nothing short of shocking. It was not only his first Sprint Cup win ever, it was his first top-five in the Cup series.

    Smith actually crossed the finish line first once before, at Talladega in 2008 (Talladega will be a common theme in this list). However, his victory was immediately disqualified by NASCAR because he passed Tony Stewart below the double yellow line.

    Most people probably thought he'd never again have a chance to win a Cup race, except possibly at another restrictor-plate race. And no one imagined Smith winning a race at Darlington, one of the toughest tracks in NASCAR. But he proved everyone wrong on Saturday night by holding off Carl Edwards in a thrilling green-white-checkered finish.

    The finish was one of the most surprising in recent years. What other shockers have there been in the last 10 years?

    Read on to find out.

Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500

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    Trevor Bayne's shocking triumph in this year's Daytona 500 has been well-chronicled as it shot the little-known up-and-coming driver to instant stardom.

    Bayne has significant talent and a bright future ahead of him, but his breakthrough victory caught everyone off guard.

    Before the 500, Bayne had competed in just one NASCAR Sprint Cup race, at Texas the previous fall. He finished an impressive 17th, but no one could have predicted his stunning victory in the crown jewel of stock car racing.

    Recently the media has been buzzing with the strange symptoms he's been experiencing. Last year this would barely have merited a footnote in NASCAR articles. This year the updates have been coming almost daily. That's what winning NASCAR's biggest event will do for you.

Brad Keselowski, 2009 Talladega

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    Brad Keselowski's victory at Talladega in April 2009 elevated his stock to new levels. He was competing in the Cup series part-time while driving for JR Motorsports full-time in the Nationwide series. However, he parlayed his victory into a full-time Cup ride with Penske Racing the next season.

    The victory was not without controversy, as the end of the race saw a dangerous crash as Carl Edwards flew into the catchfence and injured several spectators.

    Since that incident, the rivalry between Edwards and Keselowski has intensified and broken out at places like Atlanta and Gateway. It's debatable who's been at fault in each case, but there's no doubt that Keselowski's stirring Talladega win boosted his career trajectory.

Casey Mears, 2007 Coca-Cola 600

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    Casey Mears has just one career NASCAR Cup victory. However, he won one of the sport's biggest events when he ended atop the leaderboard at the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Lowes Motor Speedway.

    Mears won that race through fuel strategy because he was able to stay out while the race leaders were forced to pit for fuel. However, Mears' victory proved to be a short-lived breakthrough.

    Since 2007 he has scored a mere 10 top-10s. Following the 2008 season he was released from Hendrick Motorsports to make room for Mark Martin. Mears moved to RCR in 2009 but lost his ride there at the end of the year. Since then he's been struggling along with lower-tier teams.

Brian Vickers, 2006 Talladega

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    Brian Vickers' first Cup win came at Talladega in 2006, at then-teammate Jimmie Johnson's expense. Johnson was leading the race near the end when an ill-timed shove from Vickers sent Johnson spinning and allowed Vickers to win the race.

    Vickers led just 39 laps all season, but he led the only one that mattered that afternoon at Talladega. The victory proved to be the high point of his season and of his entire time with Hendrick Motorsports.

    Vickers left HMS after the season to drive for Red Bull Racing and wouldn't win another race until the 2009 season.

Dale Jarrett, 2005 Talladega

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    Dale Jarrett had a very successful career, winning the 1999 Cup championship to go along with his 32 race wins.

    However, in October 2005 Jarrett hadn't won in two and a half years. In fact, he hadn't had a top-10 in three months and had led just two laps all season long.

    But at Talladega Superspeedway, Jarrett sneaked away with the win. He led just two laps all race long. It proved to be the final win of his career as he would post only six more top-10s before retiring after the first five races of 2008.

Jamie McMurray, 2002 Lowe's Motor Speedway

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    Jamie McMurray wouldn't even have been racing in this event if Sterling Marlin hadn't been hurt in the midst of a championship hunt.

    However, the 26-year-old McMurray filled Marlin's place admirably and pulled off a shocker in just the second Cup series start of his career.

    He outraced Bobby Labonte for the win, leading the final 30 laps and 96 total. Even after winning bigger events, including the 2010 Daytona 500, McMurray has special memories of his first win, "I will never forget winning (at LMS) in 2002."

Johnny Benson, Rockingham 2002

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    Johnny Benson became much more well-known for his years in the truck series (where he won the 2008 championship) after several middling seasons in Cup competition.

    His lone Cup win came at Rockingham in 2002. After nearly winning at Martinsville two weeks previously, Benson led 28 of 393 laps and beat Mark Martin to the finish line to take his only Cup series checkered flag.

    Benson would score just four additional Cup top-10s and race just one more full season in NASCAR's top division before moving on to a successful career in the truck series, where he would win 14 races and the championship in 2008.

Todd Bodine, Lowes Motor Speedway 2001

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    Like Johnny Benson, Todd Bodine is much better known for his years in the truck series (where he is a two-time champion) than for the seasons he spent toiling against Cup competition.

    During his days in NASCAR's top series Bodine had just seven top-fives and 22 top-10s from 1994-2002.

    Technically, this win was not a points victory. Nor did he have to race against many of the top drivers in the series.

    But on May 19, Todd Bodine won the No Bull Sprint at Lowes Motor Speedway to earn a ticket to the All-Star race later that night. He backed up his win with an impressive run against the top drivers in the series, finishing seventh.

Bobby Hamilton, 2001

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    Bobby Hamilton won four races in his Cup career, including one per season from 1996-1998. However, he failed to win the next two years and posted just three top-10s in 2000, and many observers believed his winning days were over.

    However, he proved the naysayers wrong at that track where many drivers pull victories out of hats, Talladega Superspeedway.

    Hamilton led just three laps en route to the win. He would record just four addition top-10s in his Cup career, but that day he provided a thrilling and unpredictable finish.

Jerry Nadeau, 2000 Atlanta

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    Jerry Nadeau, whose career was shortened by a crash in 2003, won just one race in his Cup series career.

    He ran the race of his life in the 2000 season finale at Atlanta, qualifying second and leading 155 laps en route to the win, the most laps he ever led in a single race. Prior to the surprising victory Nadeau had recorded just five top-10s in his fledgling Cup career.

    Nadeau would record five more top-five finishes in the next two and a half years before a once-promising career ended violently during a practice session at Richmond International Raceway. Nadeau suffered complete immobility of the left side of his body, a skull fracture, and several broken ribs. He would never race again.