NASCAR driver Regan Smith signs an autograph for a fan during practice on… (A.J. Mast / Associated Press )
Reporting from Indianapolis — Regan Smith has found his stride in 2011.
Now in his fourth full season in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, Smith had never finished in the top 10 in a race until this season.
But with his third-place finish Sunday in the Brickyard 400, Smith has finished in the top 10 in four of the sport's most prestigious races this year.
Smith, 27, who drives for the Denver-based team of Furniture Row Racing, won his first Cup race at the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., in early May, was seventh at the season-opening Daytona 500 and was eighth at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, N.C., in late May.
"We just got to figure out how to perform on the rest of the stages [and] we'll be in shape," Smith said.
Penske waits another year
Roger Penske's cars have a won the Indianapolis 500 a record 15 times, but the team owner remained winless in the Brickyard 400.
Penske's Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch, finished ninth and 21st, respectively.
Keselowski's Dodge appeared strong for a while and he led 17 laps. But he was forced to stop for fuel in the closing stages.
"I was really surprised that so many cars were able to stay out there as long as they did," Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard and we just weren't able to run that long and not pit."
Stewart's long day
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart was penalized for striking a speed-limit cone on pit road, later was hit by Kyle Busch's car on pit road and had to pit again for fuel with less than 20 laps remaining.
Yet somehow his No. 14 Chevrolet still finished sixth.
"That's a long day at the office," said Stewart, an Indiana native who reveres the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We had to fight from the back a couple of times to get up there."
Stewart, a two-time Cup champion and co-owner of his Stewart-Haas Racing team, said he had no choice but to make his last stop for fuel because "we were three laps short. We did the right thing when we did, and it paid off for us."