With the tragic events that unfolded at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Regan Smith was tapped to serve as the stand-in driver for Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet early Sunday morning.
Taking a last-minute trip with Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick, Smith arrived at Watkins Glen International with his driving suit, helmet and seat inserts in hand.
While the team spent the morning switching the driver compartment from Stewart’s set-up to Smith’s, the JR Motorsports driver had little time prior to the start of the race and only spent "about five minutes in the hauler" before the race with crew chief Chad Johnston.
"I saw it on social media probably like everybody else did," Smith said of Saturday night’s sprint car incident. "It started hitting actually before I went to bed last night. I saw it on either Fox Sports or something like that. I didn’t know much about it at the time. I woke up this morning and obviously heard more about it and at 8:30 I got a call from my crew chief Ryan (Pemberton) and said to get to the shop as quick as I could so I did."
Dropping to the rear of the field for the start, Smith spent the first 20 laps of Sunday’s race getting adjusted to running the Sprint Cup Series car in which he had no practice.
By Lap 20, Smith moved from 41st to 25th thanks in part to staying out under the first caution of the day.
During the lengthy red flag break to repair the damaged fence and Armco barrier just past the halfway point, Smith detailed his busy day.
"It’s been a busy day right from probably about 8:30 this morning, until now," said Smith. "Just trying to get caught up with the race car, the car is better than I am right now. Trying to just find all the points all the marks that I need to be using, I will hit is one lap, but won’t hit it the second lap. These guys have built a fast race car and just try to get it as far forward as we can before the end of this race and get as many spots as we can. We are racing with heavy hearts today. Our thoughts are with everybody that was involved last night."
Looking to make the most of the situation, Smith’s day came to an end with nine laps to go when Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 1 on the restart. Trying to go low to avoid the spinning No. 48 Chevrolet, Smith had nowhere to go but into the side of Johnson’s car.
The damage was too much to continue, as the Stewart-Haas Racing team recorded a 35th-place finish.
"My day really doesn’t matter right now," Smith said following the race. "There are a lot of people more important than me at the moment; so we’re thinking about all those people and our prayers are with them."
Hated the outcome for all the 14 team today. Never like wrecking cars. Appreciative they let me fill in, just hate the circumstances.