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So who is Regan Smith?
Regan Smith has suddenly vaulted from a driver seeking a full-time ride for 2012, to driving the most well-known car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Smith, 29, originally planned to drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet that has been driven by Kurt Busch this season. Instead, he’ll be driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is sidelined for the next two races after suffering his second concussion in the last six weeks.
Earnhardt Jr. was caught up in a 25-car pileup at Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday. He was diagnosed with a concussion on Wednesday, leading to the driver change in the car. Earnhardt Jr. said he suffered an earlier concussion in a crash during an Aug. 29 tire test at Kansas, but that it went undiagnosed until Wednesday.
Now Earnhardt Jr. is going to let Smith work with the team without any interference from the driver.
"I probably need to rest and relax as much as I can, allow my brain to take a break and get some healing done," he said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "You know, Regan doesn't need any tutoring or anything like that. He's ready to go. He's going to do a great job. I'm excited for his opportunity. He's a really good guy, been a good friend of mine for a long time.
"Under the circumstances I think this is a really, really neat opportunity for him, and I think that (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and the guys will enjoy working with him."
Smith has been a regular in the Cup series off and on since making his debut in 2007. He ran seven races that season, ran full-time for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2008, then part-time for Furniture Row the following season. He raced full-time for Furniture Row Racing from 2010 through the race last Sunday.
It was announced that week that he would part ways with the team at Talladega, setting up the planned ride with Phoenix this weekend.
When team owner Rick Hendrick knew that he needed to put another driver in his car, he called team owner James Finch to make sure that he could talk to Smith and then Thursday morning they contacted Smith and set the wheels in motion. Letarte says that Smith went to the shop and picked out his seat - and that now the team is ready to go with the driver.
"Regan is a great guy with a great attitude," Letarte said. "Seems to be a remarkable talent. He's part of the Chevrolet family, which obviously helps when he comes and drives our car. We were just looking for someone that could come in and do a great job, and we feel he can, and the fact that Dale believes in him so much really made the decision that much easier."
For his part, Smith wants to impress in his opportunity - though he is, of course, not pleased with how it developed.
“Certainly it is big shoes to fill in for," he said. "I think first and foremost, his health and his safety is the priority. Obviously it is not something you want to play with, so whatever it takes to get him back is everybody’s priority right now. Looking toward this weekend, we want to do the same stuff this team does every weekend, and that is go out, and try to get the pole and try to win the race; and do him, and the Junior Nation proud. That is what the goal is.”
Now his goals are simple.
"I am very fortunate that I am the guy they chose to call," he said. "I really appreciate that. It is going to be the best car I have sat in, yes, there is no denying that. I just want to go out and make the most of it. Run all 500 miles and see where we are at when it is all said and done.”
Smith is best known for winning the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 2011, his lone Sprint Cup victory. But he enjoyed racing success before that.
In 2008, he was the Cup rookie of the year. In 2000, he was the USAR Hooters Pro Cup rookie of the year. He’s enjoyed some titles as well, winning the 1999 Allison Legacy Series championship. He also won the 1996 WKA Grand National championship when he was 12.
Smith ran a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series in 2005, then the full slate of races in 2006.
Smith’s been racing pretty much his entire life. He began racing quarter midgets when he was 4 and worked his way through the ranks. He made his NASCAR debut on Oct. 20, 2002, in the Nationwide Series and also made two Camping World Truck Series starts.
Overall, he has 161 starts in the Cup series with the one victory. He has eight top-10 finishes, three of them top-fives, and is a career-best 23rd in the standings at this point. In the Nationwide ranks, he has 102 starts. He has six top-10 finishes, three of them top-fives. In the Truck ranks, he has made 23 starts with five top-10 finishes, one of them a top five.