Smith Impressive with Runner-up Finish in Daytona 500 Qualifying Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla (Feb. 17, 2011) – Regan Smith knew when he saw Kurt Busch in his rear-view mirror that Thursday was going to be a good day at Daytona International Speedway.

It was, as he finished second behind the 2004 NASCAR champion in the first of two 150-mile Gatorade Duels that set the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. Smith will start the Great American race fifth right behind Busch who will start third.

As a single-car team, finding a drafting partner in the high-stakes poker game that is restrictor plate racing is always a wild-card, but the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet found a kindred spirit in Busch, the only driver without a teammate in the first of two qualifying races.

“Kurt didn’t have anybody out there either,” Smith said after the first 60-lap shootout. “As soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘we’re going to have a good day.’”

Facing a green-white-checkered finish after Michael McDowell’s engine expired with four laps remaining, Smith was sitting fourth in line, right next to Busch in third. The two drivers, through their spotters, hatched a plan to get to the front.

With Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya ahead of them at the green, Busch climbed the banking in front of Smith and the two set sail for Turn 1. By the time the four cars exited Turn 2, Busch and Smith were first and second and set to battle for the victory.

“The Furniture Row Chevy was really good today,” Smith said after accepting a heartfelt congratulations from Busch on his way to Victory Lane. “You can have a good pushing car, but if you don’t have anybody willing to work with you it doesn’t mean anything. Kurt (Busch) and I worked well all day and we had good cars hooked up together. I hope we can find each other and do the same thing on Sunday.”

Busch, Smith said, worked with him extensively the week before during practice for the Budweiser Shootout, and the definitely helped both drivers out on Thursday.

“He worked with me down here last week and taught me the switch and everything like that,” Smith said. “We work well together. We had two cars that hooked up, and we had two spotters working real hard together.

“I knew if I could push (on the restart) and we got away, I’d have a chance to make a move on him,” Smith said.

He did get the chance, but it was the wrong move. Smith faked low toward the double-yellow line and Busch blocked. Smith then eased high but fell short at the start-finish line.

“I didn’t make the right move, so it’s my fault,” Smith said matter-of-factly. “You learn stuff for Sunday. I’m real excited for Sunday. I’ve got a real good pit selection now and we’re starting toward the front. And, I’ve got that 22 car sitting right in front of me.”

Smith led three laps in the 62-lap race, which had two laps added because of the extended cleanup for McDowell’s engine problem. 

So what did he learn about his Furniture Row Chevrolet during the race?

“I learned that I’ve got a good pushing race car, and a car that can be pushed really well,” Smith said. “We worked hard on this thing. We weren’t fast when we got here, but the guys on the Furniture Row Chevrolet kept digging and digging, and got it where it needed to be. We have a good starting spot for Sunday.”

Sunday’s Daytona 500 will televised on FOX, beginning with a prerace show 10 a.m. MT