Smith: Top-10s won’t win a championship
June 13, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
In tight points race, near-perfection is necessary to contend
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- He's the only driver to finish inside the top 10 in all 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year, but Regan Smith knows his team has to continue to improve if it hopes to contend for the series championship.
"We know top-10s have been great -- a good figure and good stats to have," Smith, driver of the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "But that's not going to win the championship."
Smith, winner of the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway, has been consistent, and as a result is the points leader heading into Saturday's Ollie's Bargain Outlet 250 at MIS.
"As good as everybody's running this year, and as strong as it appears the five or six cars that are going to be in the hunt are, it's going to take more than top-10s," Smith said. "You're going to have to get more wins, top-fives consistently."
The Michigan stop holds much promise, wrapped in a bit of apprehension. Smith is the defending race winner here, but he also hasn't forgotten the back-to-back finishes of 30th or worse that he earned in '13.
It's one reason he says the title battle remains wide open.
"You've got Elliott, who's been running well; Trevor, who's been running well," he said. "Some guys that maybe stumbled early. Brian Scott, it seems like he's been really fast here lately.
"Last year we had a huge points lead leaving here and all of a sudden after two races we're sitting there and it's a six-point lead and everything is completely different.
"So I think it's too early with our (points) system the way it is … but having two cars up there definitely makes you think about it and think our chances are as good as anybody's at this point."
Smith, Elliott, Sadler and Hornish (running a limited schedule for JGR, are the only Nationwide Series regulars to visit victory lane this season.
Improvement, Smith said, can come in a variety of ways.
"Just little things," he said. "When you have team meetings and discuss things after the race every week, there are little things you can highlight and say, 'Hey, we did a good job here' or 'we didn't do a good job here,'" he said. "Maybe it's something as simple as one pit stop halfway through the race, or something a little more exaggerated, (maybe) we just missed it. Like Dover -- we just missed it at Dover. For whatever reason, I didn't like the feel I had in my car and we never got that better all weekend long."
His 10th-place finish on the Monster Mile was his fourth of the year. His average finishing position through this year's 12 races is 7.08.
"The 9 car (of Elliott) ran better than us at Dover," Smith said, "So we can look at them and say why did they do better … and how can we improve?
"Do I need to change what I do as a driver to improve or was there something different on paper that we can look at and do?"
Qualifying for Saturday's race begins at 10:40 a.m. ET with the race scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
"I don't know if you ever have a good handle on any race track," he said. "We qualified 20th (last year) so we obviously did something wrong there and have something to improve.
"I'm comfortable here; I've always enjoyed racing at Michigan. For whatever reason it's a track I picked up quick...
"Anytime you win somewhere, you have a (high) confidence level and feel like you understand what you need to do."