Auto racing insider: Senoia's Smith improving

Senoia’s Clint Smith took advantage of some chassis set-up tips from fellow World of Outlaws racer Darrell Lanigan and began to show some of his 2012 form as the touring series for Late Model drivers competed on dirt tracks in Canada and New York.

Smith, who struggled with mechanical woes and other misfortunes through the first 20 races of the season, rebounded to finish second to Lanigan at Cornwall Motor Speedway in Cornwall, Ontario, on Sunday. Then Tuesday at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York, Smith was the fastest qualifier and dominated the first 28 laps of the 40-lap feature before fading to eighth at the finish.

Smith’s softer tires proved to be his undoing in the closing laps, but he said he didn’t regret his choice because he felt he could have held on if the race had remained under the green flag in the closing laps. As it was, a caution flew with 10 laps remaining, giving his competitors, including race winner Bub McCool, a chance to overtake him.

“If the caution flag hadn’t come out, we win,” Smith said. “If it does we finish eighth.”

Zebulon’s Shane Clanton, a four-time winner on the WOO tour this year, finished sixth at Canandaigua and is eight points back of points leader Josh Richards heading into this weekend’s Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa.

Streak about to end: It looks as if Bobby Labonte’s streak of 704 consecutive Sprint Cup starts is about to come to an end. His regular ride in the No. 47 Toyota at JTG Daugherty Racing is being filled this week at Kentucky Speedway by A.J. Allmendinger, and the No. 51 Chevrolet that Labonte drove at Michigan International Speedway a week ago is entered with Austin Dillon as the driver.

Labonte’s consecutive start streak is second to Jeff Gordon among active drivers, as Gordon has 705.

Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky also will be the first race since the season finale of 1978 at Ontario Motor Speedway in California that there has been a Cup race without one of the Labonte brothers in the starting field. Two-time series champion Terry Labonte, Bobby’s older brother, has 884 Cup starts, including every race from the start of the 1978 season through the midpoint of the 2000 season, when an inner-ear injury at Daytona caused his streak of 655 consecutive starts to come to an end.

Gordon in Kentucky: There’s only one track on the current Sprint Cup schedule where Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at least one race. And he has a chance to cross it off the list this weekend. The 87-time Cup winner hasn’t been to Victory Lane at Kentucky Speedway, but Kentucky has hosted only two Cup races.

Gordon finished 10th in the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky in 2011 and was fifth last year. In addition to his wins at the tracks now on the Cup schedule, Gordon also has one win at North Wilkesboro Speedway and four at Rockingham Speedway, neither of which currently host the Cup series.

Road America leaders: The results of last week’s Nationwide Series race at Road America scrambled the series points standings.

Points leader Regan Smith saw his lead drop from 58 points to 28 after he finished 32nd.

Sam Hornish Jr., the points runner-up before Road America, lost ground, too, despite finishing fifth. He dropped to third in the standings behind Justin Allgaier, who finished second. Parker Kligerman’s third-place run at Road America boosted him from eighth to six in points, while Trevor Bayne dropped three spots to 10th with a 30th-place finish.

Still, the gap between the leader and 10th place is only 86 points, the closest it’s been after 14 races since a new points system was put in place in 2011. The gap was 142 in 2011 and 180 last year.

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