Despite Strong Qualifying Effort, Smith Still Not Guaranteed Daytona 500 Entry

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 8, 2009) -- Regan Smith and the Furniture Row Racing team made a huge leap in performance from Saturday's practice sessions to Sunday's Pole Day qualifying at Daytona International Speedway. But Smith's 14th fastest qualifying run among 56 Sprint Cup drivers does not assure him a berth in the Daytona 500.

Smith's qualifying effort at the 2.5-mile oval (48.148 seconds at 186.924 mph) was the fourth best among the 20 drivers who are not guaranteed a starting position in the 500. Under the confusing qualifying format, Smith needed to be in the top-three among that group to be locked into the 500. He missed the mark by just over a tenth of a second.   

The top 35 teams in owner points from the 2008 season and the most recent Cup champion (if needed) have a guaranteed entry for NASCAR's most prestigious race.

There are a number of scenarios of how Smith can qualify for the 500, but the easiest would be for the sophomore Cup driver to have a strong run in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race. He will start seventh in the second 150-miler and needs to finish in the top-two among the drivers vying for a Daytona 500 entry. Of the 28-driver field in Thursday's second qualifying race, 10 will be competing for the two transfer spots.

"I have mixed feeling right now," said Smith, who was ranked 48th on the speed charts in Saturday's practice. "I am proud of the way we came back, but disappointed that we didn't get locked in for the Daytona 500. We just need to race our way into the big show during Thursday's qualifying race."

A lack of a strong baseline run during Saturday's practice handicapped the Denver, Colo.-based team.

"Our Chevy Impala SS was short on speed during Saturday's practice which shocked all of us because of the great superspeedway program this team has shown in the past," offered Smith, the 2008 Rookie of the Year. "We knew we had an issue under our new car, but because of the time frame, we were not able to diagnosis the problem until we disassembled parts after practice. We obviously found the problem and fixed it."

"This is a good team and we'll be ready to contend for those two spots on Thursday," said Smith. "The wait is the biggest hurdle to contend with."

Pole Day only set the front row for the Daytona 500 and the starting positions for Thursday's qualifying races. The finishing order in the 150s will determine the remaining starting positions for the 500. 

Thursday 150-mile qualifying races will be televised on SPEED, beginning at 2 p.m. ET.