Regan Smith is the championship points leader in the NASCAR Nationwide Series heading into Friday night’s Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. He has two wins and 11 top-10 finishes, 14 races into the season. On Tuesday, Smith participated in a NASCAR weekly teleconference to talk about his season so far, the rest of the season still to go and racing at Kentucky Speedway, among other things. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Regan, how would you grade your season so far in the NASCAR Nationwide series?
REGAN SMITH: I would say probably a B-plus, maybe an A-minus so far this year. Certainly, as any team thinks, there’s areas we can always do better at, but we’ve done a really good job of being consistent and taking what the race and what the tracks will give us.
Throwing out this past weekend with the problems on the track at Road America that we had, I feel like things have been going as anticipated, and we’ve been fortunate enough that, because of that, we’ve been able to kind of test as the season’s been going on and learn things that we feel like are really going to pay dividends when we get further into the year and get down towards the point where the championship’s really starting to get offline.
Q. Regan, when you look back at Saturday in retrospect, I mean, are you still angry about it? Do you chalk it up to just road racing? How do you view it now when you’re able to look back on it after a couple of days?
REGAN SMITH: Well, that’s a good question. I think it’s a fine line. You’re certainly not happy about it. You’re certainly not happy about the way things went down towards the end of the race and the way that the driving turned into more slamming instead of actual racing.
With that said, it’s in the rearview mirror, and you can’t change that it took place the way that it did. All you can do is focus on going forward. One of the reasons that we’ve worked as hard as we have this year to not only get the points lead but to try to have the points lead be as large as it was in case something like that did happen somewhere and we crossed bad luck.
For us, the silver lining I think we can take from it is that we had speed. That was an area where people have maybe highlighted, thinking that the 7 car wouldn’t have speed, and we were contending for top five and even passing for the lead at one point in the race. I would then just say, going to Mid-Ohio and going to Watkins Glen, that guys aren’t going to take that for granted anymore that they can make points up on us.
Instead, that’s going to be an area where we’re going to be looking to gain points further on down the road.
Q. To follow that up, how big or small does a 28-point lead seem in your mind right now?
REGAN SMITH: Well, I mean, it’s — I guess the best way for me to look at it would be where was the points at Michigan when we were feeling good about where they were at, and it was 23. We’re still ahead of that. Over the past two weeks, it’s been a net gain of 5 points.
As I said, it was a big hit. You can’t deny the fact that that was a huge point hit, but with that said, that’s why we worked hard to have the big lead and strive to have the big lead. I would much rather be the one being chased from 28 points out in front than the one chasing from 28 points behind, if that makes sense.
Q. Regan, I know that last time you ran the Nationwide series at Kentucky was ’07. I know you ran there from ’03 to ’07. Can you compare where you were in your career in those early years running at Kentucky compared to where you are now as you return there in the Nationwide series.
REGAN SMITH: Well, there’s some comparisons. I think, in ’07 when I ran there, I was with a team that was continually getting stronger week in and week out. We went there. We sat on the pole. We were the quickest in both practice sessions and were dominating that race early on until we had a fuel pick-up problem about halfway through or somewhere in that ballpark.
But with that team at that time, I felt that team had similar chemistry to what this team started the year off with. Now, as it built and as it has built, this team’s got great chemistry to this point in the year. I feel like we all communicate well together, and we’re all to the point where we can clearly almost fill each other’s sentences in.
Me as a driver since then, though, I think I’ve matured a lot as a race car driver, understand these cars better, understand a lot what I’m looking for my car to do better, and it can help us get to the point where we can have that speed a little bit easier than what maybe I could back then.
Now, the years prior to ’07 for me were spent maybe in cars where it was a situation where you didn’t have quite the equipment the top guys did, and I was striving just to prove myself and to try to get opportunities in this sport still. It was a constant battle from that standpoint. Those races, I don’t know how much you can take from there.
And to throw in one more element to it, the racetrack has changed so much since 2007. It’s unbelievable how much different that place is. I’ve got a lot of laps there testing for different teams and doing things like that. I know in ’08, my years with DEI, I think we went up there eight times throughout the course of the year using it as a test track, and it was a situation even then, when we went back with the cup cars a few years later, it was completely different.
So the bumps, the character that place has taken is quite a bit different than ’07.
Q. And you mention ’07 winning that pole; I think that was your only pole in NASCAR. I know you talked a little bit about the race, but do you remember — what do you remember about winning the pole, the significance of it, or anything that stands out about just winning the pole in ’07?
REGAN SMITH: I think for me the biggest significance of it was knowing that — and I can chuckle about it right now, but knowing that that team was getting ready to have some financial troubles and things were kind of in a weird situation right then. It was rumored that I was going to be within a couple weeks after that race, if not the week after — I can’t remember the whole breakdown of it — but I was going to be shortly thereafter heading to possibly a full-time Cup ride.
As we kind of consolidated things, it would have been a huge race to win. The pole definitely meant a lot to us. It just showed where the team, where that particular team had come in a short amount of time from the start of the year to that point.
I don’t know what race of the season it was, but it was a situation where that team had really grown and learned fast and was probably the only team that year that was going to have a shot at maybe challenging Carl at any point.
Q. Yes, with Daytona coming up in the next couple of weeks, is that the track you’re most concerned with retaining your points lead since it is more of a wild card kind of a race?
REGAN SMITH: I mean, I guess you can look at any of these tracks as ones you want to come out of with the points lead and retain the points lead. I feel like the Speedway has been a strong spot for us this year. It certainly is a place where things can be out of your element a little bit more, out of your control — I shouldn’t say element, but out of your control a little bit more than other places.
If other guys have a problem, with that said, you’ve got to try to be as smart as you can to put yourself in the best situation and the best spot on the racetrack. If you do that, then you’ll be — you’ll be there on the last lap and have a shot at the win and have a shot at battling.
We pride ourselves in all the race tracks that we’ve got speed and that we’ve got cars capable of winning, and certainly Daytona is no different than that. We’ll look to avoid the incidents but also look to go there and use this as an opportunity to rebuild this point lead.
Q. Would your strategy be to be more competitive or hang out in the back until the end of the race?
REGAN SMITH: I don’t — everybody always asks, are you going to fall back, or are you going to go race up front, or what are you going to do? We never — both speedway races this year, we went into without really a plan. When I say a plan, we didn’t have certain cars worked out that we were going to draft like some of these guys do, and we didn’t have all these deals made before the race.
I personally prefer in a speedway race, going into it, just feeling the flow of the race and feeling at what points the race is maybe too aggressive and you need to bow out of the pack for a minute or at what point there’s opportunity to move your car forward without getting caught in situations, and finding guys to work with as you go.
It seems like every time I try to make a plan it just doesn’t work out, and you’re too focused on trying to find that one car and work with that one car and not make somebody mad because you made a deal before the race. It seems like every time I do that, it comes back to bite you.
I don’t really plan ahead or think ahead about it. I just kind of feel the race as it goes and use the gut instinct and use our driver instinct to figure out where we need to be on the track.
Q. Regan, Keselowski and Kyle are doing all three races this weekend. Have you ever done three races in three days in the heat of the summertime?
REGAN SMITH: I’ll say this, those guys are brave doing it at Kentucky because it’s one of the hottest places we go, it seems like. I don’t know why, but Kentucky with the asphalt that’s inside that facility and the way the facility is shaped, it seems like there’s no breeze, and it’s just brutally hot most of the time when we go there, between that and the humidity.
I have not done that. Would I do it? Absolutely. We’re all racers. It doesn’t matter how hot or cold it is. We want to be in the race car and making laps and learning what we can. Certainly, the more races the better.
With that said, I’m also very focused on this Nationwide team and this Nationwide Championship and trying to be pretty particular to do things that are only going to help to get to what our goals are at the end of the year with this team.
Q. Regan, you’re seeing this year definitely upbeat for sure. Do you believe in — you’ve got some momentum. Are you a strong believer in —
REGAN SMITH: It seems we lost the question. I think the question was strong believer in momentum. If it wasn’t, sorry, but I’ll answer that one.
Momentum certainly doesn’t hurt. It helps everybody in the shop. It helps everything just flow a little bit smoother and easier. When it’s on your side, you’ve got to take advantage of it.
With that said, we’ve got a very confident group here, and that includes myself as a driver in not only what my capabilities are but also what the capabilities of this race team are.
We’re to the point now that the cars they’ve been putting under me this year, I know what to expect. I know what’s going to happen week in and week out with how they’re going to feel right off the truck and how our weekend is going to flow and how we’re going to adjust and what kind of speed we’re going to have in the race.
With that said, I think that confidence is almost as important as the momentum. I feel like we can make up for any up or down momentum swings because we’re that confident as a race team, and we believe that much in what we’re doing at JR Motorsports.
Q. Regan, I guess the — for Daytona, for the Nationwide cars, the rear spoiler extensions have been reduced by an inch. I was curious if you felt like that would have any impact on the racing.
REGAN SMITH: Man, I don’t know. I knew that it was getting talked about. I hadn’t heard if it was official or not yet. Certainly sounds like it’s official.
With that said, I think the cars are still — we’re going to still be tandemed up. The main reason why I think that’s going to happen is because the bumpers just match up too good still. The Cup cars aren’t tandem anymore because the bumpers really don’t match up good enough to do it without wrecking each other.
Even at Talladega, we saw them try it at the end of the race, and it worked for a straightaway, which was all the front row car needed was one straightaway to get to the front. I would anticipate seeing the same type of racing at Daytona out of our cars now, from the standpoint we’ll be pushing just like we were at Talladega and be two cars hooked up together.
With that said, Daytona is going to be a lot more slick this year than it was in February, and you reduce the rear downforce, and that’s going to make the back of these cars dance a little bit more. And just that little bit of rear downforce being reduced could be enough to make the bumpers not line up as good, and maybe it’s going to be a little tougher for guys to stay hooked up.
You may see a situation where you have to be a little more picky on who your dancing partner is and who you’re on with and make sure you know who it is and know what the tendencies are a little bit better. I still anticipate a similar type of race.
Q. And do you have — do you know if you’re going to be in the 51 at all in the next few weeks?
REGAN SMITH: I do not know. As of right now, no, it’s not on the schedule. As I said prior, I really have just been trying to focus on this Nationwide deal and making sure that JR Motorsports and myself can keep going week in and week out what we’re capable of. With that said, don’t quote me on that obviously because things can change in a matter of minutes, as you guys know.
As of right now, I’m not scheduled for any now.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR