Anxiety, Confidence Both Rise for Smith at Talladega
DENVER, Colo. (April 21, 2010) -- There is no doubt that Regan Smith is a cool customer as the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet. But if you ever see changes in his disposition, there's a good chance that Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is the next venue on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
Talladega's 2.66-mile harrowing oval, which could be labeled as the mother of white-knuckle tracks, does have a tendency to raise the anxiety level among the world's best race-car drivers.
"I agree there's more uneasiness when it comes to Talladega," stated Smith as he mentally prepares for Sunday's Aaron's 499 at the Alabama track. "Historical videos remind you that this is a dicey race. But on the other hand, the confidence level also rises for me at Talladega. I like the big tracks, and Furniture Row Racing has an excellent superspeedway program."
The humble Smith won't come out and say it, but there's another reason that he likes racing at Talladega. He has proven that he knows how to win there.
What happened in October 2008 is still fresh in Smith's mind. After passing Tony Stewart on the final lap and crossing the finish line first, Smith's apparent victory was later reduced to an 18th-place finish after NASCAR ruled that he passed Stewart below the out-of-bounds yellow line.
"I really don't think I will ever forget about that day until I win at Talladega," said the 26-year-old Smith. "Looking back, there was some good that came out of that race -- I gained an incredible amount of experience and confidence. I know I can win on a superspeedway."
Smith's two best finishes during his part-time season with Furniture Row Racing last year were at superspeedways. He finished 12th in the summer Daytona race and 15th in the Talladega spring race.
"We've seen it a number of times at these restrictor-plate races that if you can catch a break late in the race, you have as good of a chance as anyone to win," explained Smith. "But first you have to avoid the wrecks and be part of the lead pack in the closing laps. And once you get to the closing laps it becomes a cerebral race."
Smith feels like the team lost out on an opportunity at the season-opening Daytona 500. After an impressive fifth-place finish in the Gatorade qualifying race, Smith got collected in an accident on the ninth lap of the 200-lap event.
"We went into the Daytona 500 with a bunch of enthusiasm and confidence," recalled Smith. "We were just getting settled in when I ran into (Brad) Keselowski's out-of-control car. It was disheartening because we all felt that we had the potential for a strong finish, including the win."
After eight races of the current season, Smith has a mixed bag of results, including four top-21 finishes. His best result was 14th in last month's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"There is a lot of newness on this team," noted Smith. "We have new people and a new affiliation with Richard Childress Racing. We want to be better, and we will get there. But in reality we're not that bad at this stage of the season."