NASCAR

Smith looking for spark at Darlington Raceway

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DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP)

Regan Smith had hoped his first career victory would be the turning point for his career.

Yet here he is a year later, and not much has changed for the better.

Smith picked up the only win of his Sprint Cup career at Darlington Raceway last May. Although he said Friday the victory was a ''momentum booster,'' he's in dire need of another one.

Smith goes into Saturday night's race ranked 27th in points, with just one top-15 finish all season.

''We have been struggling this year for about the past four weeks now, five weeks,'' Smith said Friday. ''We started the year off good, we thought we were going to be in good shape and just kind of hit a wall and have not progressed at all. We could use another good night like (last year) here this weekend.''

Smith's best finish this season is 15th at Las Vegas in March, and he's led only two laps, in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's got six finishes of 24th or worse, and an engine failure last weekend at Talladega led to a 40th-place finish.

The worst part? The Furniture Row Racing team can't pinpoint the problem and knows things are off because he's struggling in qualifying, which was one of his strengths last year. Smith qualified inside the top-five eight times last season.

''It's been a situation where we have just gotten behind ... hit this wall a little bit right now,'' Smith said. ''We've got to keep working on our stuff and making it better, coming up with new ideas.''

The team has a technical relationship with fellow Chevrolet team Richard Childress Racing, but RCR is still looking to hit its stride this season.

''A lot of times when we are struggling, we can lean on them and help make our stuff better,'' Smith said. ''Unfortunately, right now they are probably not quite as quick as they would like to be either at the moment. So, it's tougher for us to lean on them like we normally would. Even our qualifying has been off this year.

''Last year it seemed like we could qualify, even if we were having a bad weekend we could at least lay a lap down. We've got a few different areas that we are focused on working on and overall we need more speed.''

Smith was in a similar position last year, when he came into Darlington ranked 29th. The Darlington victory was maybe enough to get him moving, but he tallied just three top-10s the rest of the way.

He's still searching for more, though.

''I definitely thought after we got that first win we'd be more consistent with top-10s and top-fives, and we have not been more consistent,'' he said. ''It's hard to say you're surprised you haven't won again because the series is so tough. I may be a little bit disappointed because I thought that victory would propel us a little bit more than it did.''

Tagged: Regan Smith

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