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Smith: Glen win 'almost as big as Daytona'

August 08, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com

New York native improves on road courses in championship quest

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Regan Smith grew up 90 minutes northeast of Watkins Glen International in Cato, New York and remembers coming to a lot of races at the facility.

The 30-year-old still acts like a kid when he comes back to the Glen, especially after finishing fourth last year, a career best on a road course.

"When you get ready to practice here, I get a little more giddy becaust it's just a fun race track to go out and drive as a driver," Smith said. "In terms of road courses, I'm not the best road racer in America by any means so they're all challenging to me, but this one, I feel a little more at home at and have more confidence coming into it."

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Smith trails JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott by two points after 20 races this season. He trailed eventual champion Austin Dillon by 14 at the same point last year, and he says he learned from the mistakes he made last year to challenge for the title down the stretch.

"If you look at that points, we're in a very similar position to where we were at the Glen last year from a points standpoint so the thing I've got to do a better job of as a driver is not getting too desperate too early and not changing what you do in the car and just letting things come to you."

After a 16th-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway last month, the No. 7 team has turned the corner, in Smith's eyes, and is putting forth a championship effort.

"Chicago was really bad for us, and it was tough on the guys," Smith said. "It was tough on me, and we left there and changed a few things, did a few things a little different the past two races. Although it's only been 10th (Indianapolis) and sixth-place (Iowa) finishes, they've been big steps forward for us.

"We can leave those last two races and say, 'If we had done this different, we would have finished better or we would have gone faster.' And that's a good thing because there's a couple of them before that that we were left scratching our head like 'What do we do?' The experience will definitely help us down the stretch."

One road Smith would rather not travel is next Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio, but he knows he has to improve to stay in the championship chase.

"I hate that place," Smith said of the Lexington, Ohio facility. "I'll just point-blank tell you I'm going to have to work hard next week.

"The road courses definitely last year were place we could have gained more points and helped ourselves out in the championship."

Starting sixth in 2013, Smith finished 15th at Mid-Ohio after turning in the fourth-place finish a week prior at the Glen. Smith improved from a 32nd-place finish at Road America to 13th in June. A similar improvement at the Glen could land him in Victory Lane.

A winner in the season-opening race at Daytona, Smith compares a Watkins Glen win with his World Center of Racing triumph.

"I think we should be able to go out better than fourth place and get up in the top three and challenge for the win if things go our way. That's just how I feel.

"This place would be almost as big as Daytona to win at. It would be cool. With this many friends and family in the area that still live up here and everybody that's in Cato. It would be a big deal for me."

If equating a road-course win to a win at Daytona sounds familiar, Smith's boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., tweeted the same sentiment heading to Sonoma in June. The No. 7 driver seems to be inspired by Dale Jr. and has adopted a similar attitude.

"I think he's driving as good as anybody in the series right now on the Cup side," Smith said. "Maybe I'm partial because he is my boss, and I'm around him a lot more and he's my friend.

"But I'd put him up against anybody at this moment. Hell, he went to Sears Point (Sonoma) and got a third place, and this is a guy that admits that he doesn't like road courses so it's been good to see."

It would be good for the No. 7 team to see Smith follow his owner's lead and earn a couple of top-five finishes, if not a win, and keep the pressure on their No. 9 neighbors in the shop in pursuit of JR Motorsports' first Nationwide title.

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