News & Media

Mr. Smith goes to Martinsville ... without a ride

October 26, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Set to take over No. 5 Nationwide car full-time in 2013 for JR Motorsports

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- A solitary figure in a black windbreaker and baseball cap stood atop the No. 88 hauler Friday afternoon, listening intently to his race scanner while the cars circled Martinsville Speedway during Cup practice.

It wasn't exactly the view Regan Smith would have preferred, but without a ride in NASCAR's premier series for the first time since the fall race at Martinsville in 2009, Smith had to settle for watching from a distance this weekend.

"This is a sport with a lot of ups and downs. A lot of things can happen, a lot of things can take place, and you don't always know why sometimes. But as is the case for a lot of things, it seems things happen for a reason."

--Regan Smith

"Part of me was like, 'I don't want to go to the race track if I'm not in the car,' " Smith said. "And then the other part of me was like, 'You know, there's still something I can learn.' So I'll be here on Sunday and watch from the roof, listen and scan people, scan different cars and make the most out of it to continue to better myself as a driver."

But any frustration Smith felt Friday was tempered greatly by the announcement that he'll be driving JR Motorsport's No. 5 Nationwide car full-time in 2013 -- including a preview in the Homestead finale. In addition, Smith will run Phoenix and Homestead for Phoenix Racing to complete the 2012 Cup schedule.

Smith's season has taken more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. In order to deal with the changes -- and the resultant emotions -- Smith said "having my head on straight" is the best way to handle the situations as they evolve.

"You can't explain it," Smith said. "This is a sport with a lot of ups and downs. A lot of things can happen, a lot of things can take place, and you don't always know why sometimes. But as is the case for a lot of things, it seems things happen for a reason. As long as you believe in that, you carry on."

After racing nearly three full seasons with Furniture Row Racing -- including a victory at Darlington in 2011 -- Smith found himself out of a job earlier this fall when the team hired Kurt Busch to drive the No. 78 Chevrolet in 2013, and then decided to put him in the car for the final seven races of the year.

Smith assumed at that point, he'd replace Busch in the No. 51 beginning at Charlotte. But when Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to rest and recuperate from a pair of concussions, Rick Hendrick needed a substitute driver -- and Smith's name was at the top of the list.

Once Junior was cleared by doctors to drive this weekend at Martinsville, Smith's short-term prospects were as gloomy as Friday's overcast, but the long term potential has him all smiles, even if he's still trying to deal with the emotions.

"I don't think you can ever prepare for it," Smith said. "You probably have to roll with it to a certain extent. But if you look back through my career, I've had a lot of that. There have been situations where stuff has happened in the middle of the season.

"This one was a little tougher when it first happened -- when I first found out I was getting out of the No. 78 car -- because I had never been at a company that long. I had never been that emotionally invested in a company. And on top of that, we moved to Denver."

Some drivers might chafe at the idea of putting their Cup hopes temporarily on hold, but Smith sees the positive in getting a top-flight car to drive in 2013.

"I don't look at it as a step back," Smith said. "I'm getting into a situation where we feel like we're going to win races and contend for a championship. To me, that means more than anything, as a driver. That's what we do. That's why we want to be race car drivers -- to win the trophies and stand on top of the car and celebrate with our guys after the races."

"I think, at this point in my career, I don't know if you might call it the smartest move but it's definitely the best thing for me right now. I love the Cup Series, I love how tough it is and the grind of it, how long the season is and how long the races are. And certainly I anticipate getting back there, at some point or another. But right now, this is my focus and I couldn't be more excited about it."