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Smith Hopes To Rearrange Furniture At Darlington

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 10 2012

The Furniture Row Racing team celebrated like it was the first time at Darlington last year – because it was. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

A year and a couple of days ago, Regan Smith became a Colorado sports star. Pretty big one, too. Not John Elway big but maybe, like, Dante Bichette big. Big enough to warrant calls to radio sports talk shows in Denver. Seems people along the Front Range of the Rockies have, indeed, heard of the Southern 500.

This week, Smith and his Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team are less concerned about first-time callers/long-time listeners than they are about reconstructing the formula which got them their first-ever Sprint Cup victory at Darlington in 2011.

“We need to have a positive weekend in our Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet,” Smith, who heads back to Darlington for the 2012 Southern this weekend, said.

Ten weeks into the current season, Smith and Furniture row are winless and still looking for their first top-10 finish. They will arrive at the historic Darlington 1.33-mile oval 27th in points and coming off a 40th-place finish at Talladega.

Some of the team’s problems have been self-made, some have been of the unavoidable type – like last week when the engine in Smith’s Impala blew 15 laps into the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega.

“As I said after Talladega,” Smith said this week, “we’re in a partial slump and in a partial bad-luck

Regan Smith goes hunting for another Johnny Mantz Trophy this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

streak.”

A year ago, Smith, crew chief Pete Rondeau and Furniture Row were not performing much better when they arrived at Darlington. They were 29th in points and coming off a 17th-place finish at Richmond in Race No. 10.

Their lone top-10 finish was the seventh-place job they got in the Daytona 500.

Then came Darlington, and then a Denver radio guy proudly broadcasting, “This is Colorado’s NASCAR team.”

The Darlington victory was secured when, late in the race, Rondeau decided track position was more important than fresh tires and instructed Smith not to pit. The decision moved Smith from sixth to first place.

After the race restarted with 11 laps to go, Smith managed to stay out front and beat Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards to the checkered flag by .196 seconds.

“He simply refused to get passed,” Rondeau said.

The margin of victory would likely have been larger had Smith not clipped the wall on the second-to-last lap.

“I hit the wall in Turn 2 on the white-flag lap but the chances of me checking up there were about zero,” Smith said.

Smith and his team spent the next couple months telling themselves that if a small-dollar, one-car team which operates out of a shop 2,000 miles from the racing hub of Charlotte, N.C. could win the race which many in the sport believe to be the toughest on the schedule, then perhaps a Chase berth might be in their future.

“I felt at this time last year that we were getting closer to that elusive victory and then it came at Darlington, and what a place to win your first race,” Smith said. “The history, the prestige, the difficulty – Darlington has it all and to say you won is truly special.”

A Chase berth still might be in the offiing for Furniture Row. Just not, it appears right now, this season. Not unless Smith, Rondeau and team general manage Joe Garone can start finding both speed and luck.

“Nothing has seemed to click lately,” said Smith, who has dropped from 18th to 27th in driver points in the last four races. “We need to forget about the past, look forward and start to turn things around. We’re a team that came into the season with high expectations and right now we’re not delivering.”

Darlington would seem to be as good a place as any to start delivering. No, for Smith, a native of Cato, N.Y., it might be the best place to start delivering.

“When your photo is on the same winning trophy with the faces of Petty, Earnhardt, Pearson, Yarborough, Gordon, Allison, Elliott, Waltrip, Johnson and many more legends, you know you accomplished something special,” Smith said. “I would rather win the Southern 500 than the lottery.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 10 2012
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