Another Daytona Jolt is What
Smith Needs For Possible Chase Berth
DENVER, Colo. (June 29, 2011) -- Regan's Smith breakout year started to take shape before the first Sprint Cup points race of the 2011 season.
Heads started to turn toward the Furniture Row Racing driver when he placed second in February's 150-mile qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway, which set the 43-car lineup for the season-opening Daytona 500.
The strong performance in the qualifier was by no means a fluke. The 27-year-old Smith went on to have an equally impressive race in the 500, where he led with five laps remaining before an accident cost him a shot at winning NASCAR's biggest prize.
Despite the late-race accident and front-end damage to his No. 78 Chevrolet, Smith still managed to post a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500, which at the time was his best-career result.
The Daytona 500 momentum has had a positive effect on Smith, who scored his first career win in May at the historic Southern 500 race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
When asked if Daytona Speedweeks was a turning point, Smith said, "I'm not sure about a turning point, but it sure triggered some of the good things we accomplished since February. We knew coming into the season that we had the potential to step it up a notch or two, but it's one thing to feel it and another thing to do it. We did it at Daytona and we've been carrying the momentum ever since."
Smith and his single-car team out of Denver, Colo., return to the famed 2.5-mile oval of Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400, the traditional event contested on the weekend nearest to Independence Day.
"We were fairly pleased finishing 16th in Sunday's road race at Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.), but no matter how much we enjoy the road circuits, superspeedways are our comfort zone," noted Smith. "That's why we're excited about coming back to Daytona because it's a place where we know that we have a good shot at contending for the victory. Furniture Row Racing has always had a strong (restrictor) plate program."
Along with a win, Smith enters Daytona's summer race with three top 10s. He is also the Sprint Cup Series qualifying leader with a 10.188 starting average after 16 of 36 races.
"We've put up some good numbers this year, but yet, we have also let a lot of points slip away too," said Smith, who is 28th in the driver standings. "Bad luck, mechanical issues and some mistakes have cost us dearly in points."
Smith's six finishes of 30th or worse have hurt his chances of being in the top 20 and the opportunity of making the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Under the new Chase rules, the first 10 drivers in points qualify along with two drivers with the most wins positioned in 11th to 20th.
"We have 10 races remaining before the Chase begins and still have a shot at finishing in the top 20," stated Smith. "But we have to avoid bad luck, mistakes and mechanical problems. We need to get on a good streak."
Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 will be Smith's eighth points race at Daytona International Speedway. Along with his seventh-place finish in this year's 500, his other best result was 12th at the 2009 summer race.