Smith looks to regain points lead at Darlington
April 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Regan Smith says he isn’t surprised by his team’s fast start to the season, or the overall strength of the JR Motorsports organization in 2014.
Smith, who led the points after each of the first five NASCAR Nationwide Series races of the year, heads into Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway second in the standings, trailing teammate and Texas race winner Chase Elliott by two points.
"I think as a company we are doing what we anticipated we’d be capable of doing, coming off last year," Smith said Thursday prior to the first of two practice sessions at Darlington. "I don’t know that it’s surprising us, we expected it of ourselves. We expected the company to run this good."
Smith won the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway, and has finished no worse than 10th in the five subsequent races.
Elliott, a rookie, finished ninth or higher in four consecutive starts before scoring his first career win last weekend.
"I feel like we’ve got a little bit of catching up to do still," Smith said of his No. 7 team, which is led by crew chief Ryan Pemberton. "It’s a new bunch, a new group of guys. We’re still lacking a little bit of where we want to be week in and week out."
His seventh-place finish at Texas was "one of our more solid races of the year," he said.
"Barring a three-wide restart at the end, we probably could have ended up fourth or fifth. As a whole, the company is really taking steps forward. There is still more we can do. We can still learn more, we can still get better."
A former Southern 500 winner – he won the Sprint Cup Series race in 2011 while driving for Furniture Row Racing – Smith will be making his 12th career national series start on the 1.366-mile track. Elliott will be making his Darlington debut.
"I haven’t talked to Chase since I saw him in Victory Lane last weekend," Smith said. "I saw him on pit road, made it a point to go congratulate him and all those guys … a lot of whom I worked with last season. That was cool for them, cool for Chase."
Smith was 10th and 12th in Thursday's two sessions while Elliott was 13th in the opening run and fifth in the final practice.
Elliott’s father, Bill, won the 1988 premier series title and is a five-time Darlington winner, a fact that didn’t escape Smith.
"His dad was one of the best at this race track so I don’t think he’ll have too many questions for me this week," he said.