NASCAR in Joliet: Nationwide front-runner Regan Smith the hunted — and the hunter
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org July 17, 2014 8:16PM
LOUDON, NH - JULY 12: Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 501199977
Site: Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet
Schedule: Friday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 2:30-3:30 p.m., 5:30-7 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 2, 3-4:30 p.m.), race, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2, 7-10 p.m.).
Track: Oval, 1.5 miles.
Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.
Last year: Joey Logano held off Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr.
(through July 12)
1. Regan Smith 611
2. Elliott Sadler 603
3. Chase Elliott 598
4. Ty Dillon 577
5. Brian Scott 560
6. Trevor Bayne 553
7. Brendan Gaughan 493
8. Chris Buescher 486
9. James Buescher 470
10. Ryan Reed 456
Updated: August 19, 2014 6:35AM
Regan Smith longs for the day when he once again can drink from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup of victory, and winning a Nationwide series title in 2014 certainly would make him a more attractive commodity.
The 30-year-old is sitting atop the points standings going into Saturday’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
But he isn’t sitting comfortably.
For one thing, Smith has Elliott Sadler and Chase Elliott breathing down his neck. For another, he’s coming to a race track that hasn’t treated him very well during his career.
“It’s treated me pretty poorly, to be brutally honest about it,” Smith said, laughing. “It seems like it’s been one of my worst tracks, not only with the Cup stuff but as well with the Nationwide stuff.
“I felt the last race there we had a quick car and we did a really good job of getting it where we needed to be, but then just had some bad luck. Hopefully, that was a sign of turning the corner and improving the runs there.”
It will be the first of two stops in Joliet for the Nationwide series, the other slated for Sept. 13 as a prelim to the Sprint Cup Chicagoland race Sept. 14.
“We’re fortunate to have some of the most engaged and loyal motorsports fans in the country right here in Illinois and the Midwest, and I think NASCAR recognizes that as much as we do,” Chicagoland Speedway president Scott Paddock said. “Our second NASCAR weekend here in July enables us to better feed the appetite of loyal and passionate fans throughout the Chicagoland region.”
Saturday’s event will be preceded by the ARCA Racing Series ActivArmr 150. It will be bereft of the usual large amount of Cup drivers, who are taking the weekend off. Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson are the only regulars from the top series who are entered.
That should give the Nationwide title contenders a chance to chase points near the front of the field.
For Smith, it’s also a chance to work at breaking a careerlong dry spell at Chicagoland. His best finishes were 13th in both races last season.
This year, Smith has one win, in the season opener at Daytona. His 611 points have him just eight ahead of former Cup regular Sadler and 13 ahead of Elliott, who at 18 years old is in his Nationwide rookie season.
During a NASCAR career that dates to 2002, Smith has four Nationwide wins and one in the Cup series, the latter coming in 2011 at Darlington.
“I don’t know that I could put it in words,” he said of his Cup victory. “It’s an emotion that you just don’t forget.
“We had a small team (Furniture Row Racing) growing from the ground up, and to go to a track like Darlington and win was absolutely magical. I can describe every moment of that entire race — at least the last 20 laps anyway — pretty vividly. I’m confident that when I’m 95 I’ll still be able to do it.”
Smith was a Cup regular from 2010 through ’12, but was replaced at Front Row Racing in ’13 by Kurt Busch. Smith became a regular for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide team, leading the points before finishing third.
“I think I’m still relatively early in my career,” he said. “I started so young that sometimes you lose sight and think, ‘This guy has been around forever. But in reality I’m still only 30, which is young compared to a lot of guys out there.
“I’m striving to get back to the Cup series. That’s where I want to be again, running on Sundays. I definitely want to get back there to prove I belong there and add some wins to the career total and improve on those numbers.”