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NASCAR Nationwide: Smith: Expect a quality race

Points leader hoping to find magic at Chicagoland Speedway

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 11:58 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Jeff Siner)
MCT Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith and his team celebrate victory at Daytona International Speedway in February. Smith leads the Nationwide Series in points.

JOLIET – Regan Smith had rides in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series before his 20th birthday.

Now 30, he also has experience racing in the Sprint Cup Series. He won the Southern 500 at Darlington in May of 2011, after having an apparent victory in the 2008 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega erased because of a rule violation.

In the last year and a half, he consistently has produced positive results driving the No. 7 Chevrolet of JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. In fact, he arrives in Joliet for Saturday night's EnjoyIllinois300.com at Chicagoland Speedway as the series points leader.

Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson will run as well, but not most of the rest of the Sprint Cup contingent that competes in Nationwide. They are enjoying their rare week off. However, Smith said that will not affect the caliber of racing Joliet area fans will see.

"The quality of racing in the two series is the same," he said. "You have guys out here in Nationwide who are hungry, you have the mixture of Cup guys, veterans and young guys trying to be noticed. They have different agendas at different stages of their careers.

"Sometimes the Cup guys run up front, sometimes not. Both series at this point are ultra competitive. The big difference is Nationwide as a whole is more inexperienced. Sometimes with that comes enthusiasm that could cause drama. There's always some passion."

A couple of years ago, NASCAR instituted the system where each driver accumulates points only in Sprint Cup or in Nationwide. No longer can a driver compete for titles in both.

"NASCAR needed to do that," Smith said. "You want Nationwide and Cup championships.

"That said, there are 50 million reasons it's good the way it's set up, and 50 million reasons it's bad. The debate will be ongoing for years to come, and even if a new ruling comes down, we'll still debate it."

Coming off a third-place finish in the Nationwide point standings in 2013, Smith jump-started this season with a victory in the opener at Daytona. He has been at or near the points lead since. He holds an eight-point lead over Elliott Sadler and is 13 up on Chase Elliott.

"It never hurts when you're in the point lead," Smith said. "That's a good position to be in halfway through the season. Racing for a championship is about minimizing mistakes. That's where I am right now."

Smith, of course, would like to get back into the Sprint Cup Series on a steady basis.

"I haven't run any Cup races this year," he said. "I ran one last year.

"I tested a car just the other day. I like that little extra horsepower. I'd like to get into Sprint Cup, and see how my driving style matches up there."

That said, he has no complaints with life at JR Motorsports.

"I'm fortunate that I was able to hop into a deal in a car that could run up front," he said. "I stepped into something good. I've already grown with JR Motorsports. They're good people.

"I've been dabbling in this [NASCAR racing] for a better part of 10 years. I've been around, but the reality is I'm still young. I feel young."

Smith said he enjoys coming to Chicagoland Speedway, but so far results have not been what he would have wanted.

"None of my races there have been very good yet," he said. "I have struggled there more than anywhere, and it's been in a lot of different vehicles. Our company and team have had good speed there. We know what we have to do, and now we need to put it together.

"I feel I've been a little better on the shorter tracks in general, but I enjoy the mile-and-a-halfs, too. Whatever the distance, there are variations track to track. It's not like football where everyone plays on a 100-yard field, and they're all the same."

Interesting that Smith mentions football. Yes, he loves the game.

"I'm a big Broncos guy," he said. "And it was that way prior to Peyton's [Manning's] arrival."

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