Text Gives Regan Smith His Early Morning Jolt
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – For 29-year-old Regan Smith, the last four weeks have been quite a roller-coaster ride.
During that time span he has lost his NASCAR Sprint Cup ride with Furniture Row Racing to Kurt Busch, gained a ride with Busch’s former team fielded by James Finch and been named as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s substitute at Hendrick Motorsports. The later came early Thursday morning after neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty told Earnhardt Jr. he needed to sit out for a couple of weeks due to the 38-year-old driver suffering two concussions in the last six weeks.
“First and foremost, Dale’s health is the most important thing,” said Smith, who qualified Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet 26th during Thursday’s preparations for Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Whatever the circumstances are surrounding it, you want him to be healthy, feel good when he’s in a race car. Outside of that, it’s a situation where, yes, it’s a good opportunity for me and there’s nothing wrong with being excited about that opportunity. I think it’s human nature that you have to be excited about it, but with that said, what’s in my mind, the overall thing, is for him to get healthy as soon as possible.”
Smith was contacted about substituting for Earnhardt Jr. around 7 a.m. Thursday when he received a text from crew chief Steve Letarte to contact him ASAP. At the time, he was drinking a cup of coffee, getting ready to go to the gym.
Team owner Rick Hendrick had contacted Finch, who uses Hendrick engines, the previous evening about acquiring Smith’s services for the next two weeks after Petty told him on Wednesday he was not clearing his driver to race this weekend. Finch agreed and turned to A.J. Allmendinger to race his car. Hendrick said he settled on Smith because he knew JR Motorsports had been talking about running him in the Nationwide Series for a championship and Earnhardt Jr. liked him.
“He’s a good driver and we’re familiar with him,” Hendrick said. “It just seemed to fit.”
Letarte noted Smith was a “great guy with a great attitude.”
“Seems to be a remarkable talent,” Letarte commented. “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; the fact that Dale believes in him so much really made the decision that much easier.”
Smith said the fact he was excited about driving Finch’s Chevrolet for this weekend before the opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports surfaced should not be overlooked.
“Those guys gave me an opportunity to get in a race car and stay in a race car,” Smith said. “My goal was to go out there and do the best I could for them and help them solidify funding so they can go racing next year.”
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