2013 Ride: No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet
2013 Primary Sponsors: TaxSlayer, Hellmann’s, Clean Coal, Fire Alarm Services, Speedco, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Drive Sober Arrive Alive, Goody’s, Lionel Racing Golden Ticket, Winn-Dixie, Martin’s
2013 Owners: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller & Rick Hendrick
2013 Crew Chief: Greg Ives
Stats: 33 races, 2 wins, 8 top 5s, 19 top 10s, third in points.
Best Finish: 1st, twice (Talladega – May & Michigan).
Average Finish: 11.0.
2013 Team Ranking: 1st of 3. Smith was the lone full-time driver for JR Motorsports and made the No. 7 its highest finisher in owner points. Smith helped his team lead the organization in wins, top 5s and top 10s.
Brad Sweet received the majority of opportunities (22 starts) as part of a timeshare inside the No. 5 that also included drivers Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Johnny O’Connell, Ron Fellows, and Jamie McMurray. Co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. made four appearances in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
High Point: Michigan. After qualifying 20th, the No. 7 improved considerably during the second half of the Alliance Truck Parts 250. Smith then beat a hard-charging Kyle Larson to the line shortly before rain began to fall at the track. It was Smith’s second win of the 2013 campaign, and came during a three-month stretch atop the driver standings. He left the Irish Hills 58 points ahead of Sam Hornish Jr., the largest margin between first and second in the Nationwide Series all season.
Low Point: Kentucky – June. Smith’s low point came just two weeks after his Michigan win. He entered Kentucky following a 32nd-place finish at Road America, and after qualifying 14th had hoped to avoid another letdown. Early on it appeared that Smith would be able to do just that, and he entered the pits on Lap 103 without encountering any issues. But shortly after the green flag stop Smith reported a problem with the No. 7 Chevrolet. Upon a return to pit road, the crew diagnosed what was first described as a flat left-front tire as a damaged right-front suspension. Smith was then forced behind the wall for 18 laps while repairs were made. After reemerging from the garage he ran 30th before rain halted the race 30 laps prior to the scheduled finish.
Two consecutive showings of 30th or worse quickly shrank Smith’s lead in the standings to eight points. Afterwards, the No. 7 team avoided any finishes worse than the ones it encountered at Road America and Kentucky, but couldn’t replicate the consistent top 10s that Smith scored beforehand.
Summary: Smith established himself as a NNS title contender with a victory in the ‘12 series finale at Homestead and met those expectations in his first full season with JR Motorsports. He got off to a fast start this season and appeared to be a serious contender for the title.
A post-race scuffle between Smith and Elliott Sadler at Loudon led to a Sadler guarantee that Smith wouldn’t win the championship. While an 8th-place finish at New Hampshire helped Smith maintain a small gap over Hornish, Sadler’s remarks would inevitably prove true. Smith lost his lead in the standings the following week at Chicagoland Speedway and never regained it. Despite posting consistent results down the stretch, Smith finished behind both Austin Dillon and Hornish in the standings.
While the ending was a bit of a letdown for Smith, the season as a whole can be regarded as a success. He posted NNS single-season highs in almost every statistical category along the way to a career-best finish in points.
Smith also appeared in six Sprint Cup races for Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 entry. He recorded top 10s in the Daytona 500 and the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega.
Off-Track News: Smith won the Most Popular Driver Award from the Nationwide Series in November, his first such award in any NASCAR touring series. He beat out Dillon and Sadler for the honor after becoming one of the most cheered for NNS drivers over the course of the season.
It’s the fourth time that JRM has achieved the MPD award in six seasons. Smith joined Brad Keselowski (2008-09) and Danica Patrick (2012) as drivers to accomplish the feat for the organization.
2014 Outlook: All signs point to Smith returning to the No. 7 for another full-time season driving for JRM. Currently, Greg Ives is slated to return as the crew chief of the team and primary sponsors TaxSlayer and Hellmann’s are also onboard.
Smith should again be a championship contender, only this time things could be a little more complicated in the battle for the Most Popular Driver award. That’s because Ty Dillon, the winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series equivalent, is making the move to the NNS full-time.
2013 Frontstretch.com Grade: B. If there was a grade given for the first half of the season alone, Smith would have easily scored an A, but a decline over the last few months hurt his final grade.
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