Up-And-Down Day for Smith at Atlanta

Interim Haas Automation Driver Starts 38th, Finishes 17th in Folds of Honor 500

Date: March 1, 2015
Event: Folds of Honor 500 (Round 2 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 38th/17th (Running, completed 324 of 325 laps)
Winner: Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)

Regan Smith, interim driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), endured an up-and-down day in the Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He struggled with an ill-handling racecar for the first half of the 325-lap race around the 1.54-mile oval but was on his way up when, in the closing laps, an incident unfolded in front of him that he’d all but avoided before being hit from behind. Despite the setback, Smith was able to rally to a 17th-place finish.

“It was a battle all day,” Smith said. “We kind of struggled with the handling on the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS. Finally when we got it where I was happy with it, we were a lap down. It was kind of too late at that point. But right after we got it where I was happy, we got damage on the nose. I don’t know, somebody up there wrecked and everybody stopped. Tony (Gibson, crew chief) made some great pit calls to somehow get us back to one lap down. I still don’t know how that happened. It was a good job by him to salvage the day for the team.”

Smith started 38th after NASCAR’s technical inspection process on Friday dragged on so long that 13 drivers, including Smith, were never able to make a qualifying lap. Even with a handling condition that made his Haas Automation Chevrolet loose into and off of the track’s corners while being tight rolling the center, Smith was able to steadily advance to the 27th position by the race’s scheduled competition caution on lap 25.

Gibson called for chassis adjustments ranging from wedge and air pressure to removing packers in the right-front shock, but as the laps clicked off, handling characteristics went to the tight side. Despite the team’s best efforts, the Haas Automation Chevrolet went a lap down on lap 148.

Smith was able to race his way to become the first car one lap down and in position for the “free pass” to return to the lead lap should the caution flag be displayed. Unfortunately, the caution that the No. 41 team needed came during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, trapping them another lap down to the race leader.

Not long after, a multicar incident unfolded in front of Smith. While he was able to avoid significant damage, a trip down pit road was required to make repairs to the nose and hood of his Chevrolet. Smith was able to recover from the mishap and was once again in position to get back on the lead lap when, following a lap-304 restart, he was caught up in a multicar accident that significantly damaged the rear end of the Haas Automation Chevrolet.

Gibson was able to make needed repairs to the racecar during two trips to pit road. However, the damage sustained and limited laps remaining thwarted Smith’s forward progress as time ran out.

Smith’s teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent by finishing second.

Harvick had to come from the back of the 43-car field after the team made an engine change during final practice on Saturday. He wound up leading six times for a race-high 116 laps en route to his sixth top-five in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 16th.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, finished 30th after getting caught up in a multicar accident late in the race.

Jimmie Johnson won the Folds of Honor 500 to score his 71st career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fourth at Atlanta.

Harvick finished 1.802 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Brett Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 10 caution periods for 54 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 325-lap race.

With round two of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is third with 86 points, two points behind first-place Logano. Patrick is 16th with 51 points, 37 out of first. Stewart is 35th with 16 points, 72 out of first. Smith didn’t accumulate any points because he is a fulltime driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, March 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 2:30 p.m.