Smith Answers Questions Leading Up To Daytona
FEBRUARY 16, 2016
REGAN SMITH, NO. 7 NIKKO RC/GOLDEN CORRAL CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.
AFTER A LOT OF UNCERTAINTY LAST YEAR, HOW’S IT FEEL TO KNOW YOU’RE LOCKED IN AN HAVE A FULL-TIME CUP RIDE AGAIN?
“It feels good. Even three weeks ago, I had no clue what was going on. I got a call from Tommy (Baldwin, team owner). Everything happened quick, and the next thing I know I’m coming to Daytona to go racing and have a full-time, locked-in deal with a charter. It was probably one of the craziest off seasons I’ve been a part of and one of the most unenjoyable to be brutally honest with you. By the time it all played out, it turned out to be one of the better off seasons for me.”
BEFORE THE DEAL WITH BALDWIN, WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING TO DO?
“I was doing some stuff with FOX Sports. I was doing some stuff with NASCAR Media. I didn’t know. I was kind of dabbling with everything and see how the start of the season played out. I had some Xfinity stuff that was kind of lined up, but nothing permanent. Nothing that was going to be a long-term deal. Then this came about and it changed all this rapidly.”
YOU’VE BEEN IN THE SHOP A COUPLE OF TIMES. HOW’S THAT RELATIONSHIP WITH TOMMY AND THE TEAM COMING?
“Coming into the shop, the toughest part is learning the names and knowing the people. I still don’t know my road crew names. I have to say ‘Hey you’ occasionally and hope they turn around when I say it because I’m still so new to this thing. There are so many names and nicknames that you’re trying to figure out as you go. As I’ve been diving into it, I’m saying ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ I feel like every time I turn around, I’m like ‘I didn’t know this guy worked over here.’ It’s been really impressive to see what Tommy has put together and what he’s been building. He really has something special going on. And with the backing of Toy State and Golden Corral and partners that are consistent partners for us, having the charter and knowing for the however many years that we’re going to be on the racetrack, you can see the confidence through the shop, in Tommy and everywhere. It’s a big deal. Things are going to evolve and we’re going to understand it as we go. As the charter evolves, it’s going to be huge for the small teams.”
HAVE YOU AND TOMMY TALKED ABOUT EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS YEAR?
“We haven’t had that conversation on what we would consider a good year. We’re both racers. If we go into the season and say that we want to be a fixture in the top-25, we’re going to look at it after the fact and say, ‘why weren’t we in the top-20?’ That’s the racer mentality. It’s how you act and how you strive to get better. We’re a small team. We’re building it. We have good backing and good people there. With the RCR alliance growing and getting more partners, our expectations 20 races from now might be different from what we say now. To put a set number on it is tough to do. I always set that bar pretty high. Even if you don’t get all the way there, maybe you’re still happy with it after the fact. We’re going to race hard and work hard. If we have a good week, we’ll say why it was good. And if we have a bad race, we’ll say why it was bad.”
RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES USED TO BE MORE OF A CRAPSHOOT BUT THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS YOU SEEM LIKE YOU HAVE TO GET A BIG RUN AND EVERYTHING HAS TO LINE UP TO EVEN GET A SHOT OF BEING THERE. DOES THAT MAKE IT LESS OF A CRAPSHOOT NOW?
“I felt that way for all of last year in the Cup Series and not so much in the other series. In the other series, you can still position yourself and come through the pack in different ways. In the Cup races and with this particular rules package, it’s changed what these cars do. We saw that in the 500 last year. Guys get out front and manipulate the air and that bubble we talk about is back whereas in years past you’d see the front row being three-wide for 20 laps and no one has an advantage and get out front. Right now, the quickest car has an advantage. There is no denying that. You’re going to look at guys like the 24, the 88… they will have an advantage. They will get out in front of the pack, and if they don’t make a mistake then they can stay at the front of the pack. Or if someone doesn’t get a massive run that they can’t predict or see coming. We saw that last year with Junior. He had a really good car at all the plate races. It’s kind of evolved and makes it tougher to have a darkhorse end up at the front. With that said, it’s still plate racing. If these guys start beatin’ and banging and get side-by-side on the last lap, you don’t know what’s going to take place or who’s going to get that run. As soon as the leaders get side-by-side, all bets are off. Then it comes down to they’re going to start side-drafting each other, and can that third- or fourth-place car get that run to put them three-wide and completely change what the air is doing on all these cars. There’s still a crapshoot feeling to it but I think it’s evolved it a little to where the best car has the advantage.”
DO YOU SEE THIS AS A STEPPING STONE OR DO YOU WANT TO STAY AND HELP BUILD SOMETHING LIKE WITH FURNITURE ROW?
“I see this as an opportunity to build something and help something continue to grow. Tommy has done a great job with what he’s got already. The difference this year with the alliances and the partners that he’s got is clear for me to see, and I’m new to the program. As I see it and I see the people that he’s brought in and the faces that are there, this is something where I’ve said we can grow this and be what Furniture Row was. The only difference is that I’d like to see it through this time and not see it go away too quick. It’s an opportunity to get back in the Cup series but at the same time it’s an opportunity to help a team grow and be a part of that growing.”
WHEN YOU SAW THAT TONY (STEWART) WAS GOING TO BE OUT, WERE THERE ANY THOUGHTS OF ‘DID I DO SOMETHING TOO SOON’ OR DID YOU NOT WANT TO HAVE ANY POSSIBILITY OF WAITING ON SOMETHING ELSE TO HAPPEN?
“I honestly didn’t give it two thoughts. When I saw that he was out, the first thought I had was, ‘That sucks for Tony.’ Going into his last year, I felt bad for Tony. Some of the details are still a little shaky, but long story short he broke his back. You don’t want to wish that on anyone, first and foremost, no matter what they’re doing. He’s out having fun, living his life and doing what we all do. We all do stuff like that. You never want to see a competitor have that happen, especially one who has been as important and critical to the sport as him dating back years. Outside of that, that was the only thought. I had signed by deal with Tommy two weeks prior to that and couldn’t believe there was a ride open at this stage of the season. When I got the call from him, I was doing video for NASCAR.com all day at the media tour. I left there thinking maybe this is what I’ll be doing this year and being part of the sport how I can. Then I looked at my phone and had that message. I went over there and had that meeting and walked out of there shaking my head. I talked to my wife and told her I think may have something for this season. I feel for Tony and his situation. I personally haven’t thought about it twice since it happened from a point of coulda, shoulda, woulda. I have a full-time ride and in an opportunity with a team that is growing from the ground-up with a charter to race every week. Tony’s deal might be five weeks, it might be 25 weeks. It’s going to be good for whoever gets to do that.”
DO YOU THINK YOU LEARN MORE BOUNCING AROUND FROM CAR TO CAR AND IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS OR BY STICKING WITH THE SAME TEAM ALL YEAR?
“It’s a double-edged sword. You get a comfort level when you’re with the same team all year long. But sometimes you get wrapped up in that and you lose sight of what you need to do to get better. When you’re with a different team regularly, you have the ability to see how organizations work, how they all do things different, how they communicate different, how they operate at the shop. You see so much and absorb so much. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to see behind the scenes at some of the best organizations that there are and are able to say, ‘I like how they do this’ or ‘I like how they do this better’ and mesh that together and through talking with other drivers and listening to other drivers and what they do with their crew chiefs kind of pick and pull different aspects of that into how I do my job. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s given me the opportunity to adjust myself and mold myself based on it.”
ARE YOU SHARING ANY OF WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM OTHER PEOPLE WITH TOMMY?
“Absolutely because I’m there permanently now. Everything I’ve learned I try to share with him. Some of it works and some of it is great ideas and some of it he has experience in the past and doesn’t like how that happens. The luxury is that he has been in a lot of other teams and organizations as well and led a lot of very good race teams that have won a lot of races. He’s got that experience where I can lean on him and see his ways of doing things also.”
ALONG THOSE LINES, HOW MUCH TIME DOES A DRIVER SPEND AT A SHOP, AND HOW MUCH OF THAT VARIES BY REQUIREMENT OR ATMOSPHERE WITHIN A TEAM?
“It depends on the driver. It varies because of the teams to a certain extent. Some teams want you to be there more than other teams. But then I’ll bet there are some drivers here who don’t go to the shop more than three times a year. That’s not me. I want to be at the shop. I want to know the guys working on my racecar. I want to know something about them because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who are busting their butts for you to go out there and try to succeed. We’re all pulling on the rope together. They need to know that and feel that. That’s my mentality. Some guys think differently than that, and that’s their right. They can have their own opinions and perspectives of how that needs to take place. But I’m a guy who spends a lot of time in the shop. When I can be there, I’m there and building those relationships and letting them know how much I appreciate them and the sacrifices they make so that we can all do this.”
HOW HAS THAT CHANGED IN YOUR CAREER? ARE THE SPONSOR COMMITMENTS AND PHOTO SHOOTS THINGS THAT ARE PREVENTING DRIVERS FROM SPENDING AS MUCH TIME IN THE SHOP AS THEY USED TO?
“That’s a fair statement to make. The commitments have definitely adjusted that and changed that. The commitments on certain guys are more than others as we know. That’s one element of it. If I had four days a week having to fly somewhere to do something or take care of something, then that would be a little different. But we’re racecar drivers and don’t have the most stressful job in the world. You can find time to get there.”
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH STRESS OUTSIDE THE TRACK? IS THERE A FAVORITE DIVERSION OF YOURS?
“I love sports. I watch a lot. I don’t really care what it is. I’m not really big into basketball but give me a hockey or football games. Video games help some with stress. Now that I’ve had a kid, I don’t think I’ve turned on my xBox in like eight months. That’s gone away. And kids really. It used to be dogs for me. They didn’t know how your day went – good, bad or indifferent. You’d just sit in the floor and play with them for a little bit. Now it’s my son. All he knows is that dad is home. You walk in and he has this big grin on his face. You could have the worst day ever and he’s still smiling when you come through the door.”
DID YOU THINK YOU’D RACE AT DAYTONA AGAIN?
“I didn’t know if I was going to race again period. I really didn’t know. I had a lot of those questions in my head. When it all took place and transpired, it was pretty cool. I guess there’s a certain part of me that’s happy to be here but there’s another part of me that says let’s make the most of it. Let’s go out, have a good week and show that we’re the little team that could and can.”
HOW’S THE PREPARATION GOING ON-TRACK?
“It’s going good. I was happy with our speed. I think we lost a little off Turn Four in qualifying for whatever reason. You look at how the rest of the week has gone, getting to know the guys, working with them at the track for the first time and seeing how they operate and how they communicate has been really nice.”