It was an audition that Regan Smith couldn't pass up. An opportunity to drive for the top team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and for the first time a chance to prove what Smith could do in a top notch ride. He didn't disappoint.
When Smith was let go from Furniture Row Racing and replaced by former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Kurt Busch many thought that Smith's Cup career could be over. He was out of a ride and looking to just stay in the Cup Series when the Hendrick Motorsports opportunity came up.
Smith's career was an impressive one. He started in the 2007 season running just seven races for Dale Earnhardt Inc. In 2008 Smith earned a full-time ride at the same organization. Smith's car had limited funding from Principal Financial Group and was unsponsored for most of the season. Smith was running for Rookie of The Year that year with former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. When the season started everyone thought Hornish, who had a fully funded ride with Penske Racing, would dominate the Rookie of The Year battle. That didn't happen. Smith kept the car off the wall and was able to beat the more known Hornish by a long shot. That wasn't the only surprise of the season.
The other one came at Talladega Superspeedway in October of 2008. Smith was running for Dale Earnhardt Inc, a powerful team on Superspeedways. Smith ran a perfect race and put himself in position at the end of the race to strike and strike he did. Coming off the final corner Smith had teammate Paul Menard behind him and dove to the inside of Tony Stewart. Stewart went to block Smith forcing him below the yellow line. Smith made the pass and was past Stewart when the cars took the checkered flag. It was an emotional moment for Smith as he thought he won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The moment was short lived. A few moments later NASCAR called Smith's move illegal, and penalized him to an 18th place finish. The victory didn't stay but the impression he left on the NASCAR world did stay.
Smith would move to Furniture Row Racing after DEI merged their operation with Chip Ganassi. Furniture Row Racing would run a limited schedule for the 2009 season and would be very competitive with Smith behind the wheel. In 2010 they would show even more improvement, especially when new crew chief Pete Rondeau came aboard. In 2011 Smith would get revenge from the 2008 incident at Talladega by going to victory lane in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He held off a hard charging Carl Edwards for his first career Cup victory. Smith would get off to a rough start in the 2012 season, but when new crew chief Todd Barrier came aboard the team took major strides and it looked like everything pointed to a strong 2013 season. That was until Smith was fired.
It looked like Smith would run for Phoenix Racing to finish out the season. When it was announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr had a concussion and he was going to need a replacement for two races, Smith was Hendrick's first choice.
At Charlotte Smith was running in the top ten until his engine blew early in the race. This past weekend at Kansas, Smith dodged a lot of wrecks to come home with an impressive seventh place finish. It was just more proof that Regan Smith is an outstanding talent who needs a good ride.
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