The Frontstretch: Regan Smith Driver Diary: Engagement, Football, And 2011 Expectations by Regan Smith -- Thursday February 10, 2011

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I’m really excited to be starting a new season with the Furniture Row Racing team. We ended on a high note last year and I believe it will give us something to build on for 2011. Unfortunately, having to run a partial schedule in 2009 prevented us from running well the entire season last year. If you get behind one race, it is difficult to recover, so I think we were still playing catch up from ’09 at the beginning of ’10.

The other factor for the improved performance in the second half was our crew chief Pete Rondeau, who took over the role in May. He has strong leadership abilities and knows how to keep calm in any situation. I think it was a combination of his demeanor as well as he and I becoming more accustomed to one another and learning each other’s personalities better. It takes some time to build that relationship on the radio where, for example, if I’m screaming, he knows when he needs to calm me down or help me to focus. It was with about 10 races to go that we started clicking and in all reality, it takes about 10 or 12 races to build a driver/crew chief relationship. That’s right about where we were with about 10 events remaining.

Furniture Row Racing’s return to full-time Cup competition last season yielded significant progress for the No. 78 team, and driver Regan Smith is confident that the team is ready to pick up where 2010 left off.

I’m really excited to build some consistency with a new team that was pretty much put into place last year, when we brought in a lot of new people. We also had a situation where we were trying to implement the Richard Childress cars into our fleet and that took some time. In the beginning of the year we weren’t running their cars every week as we were getting ramped up. Mark McArdle, our Director of Competition, has done a great job getting the shop running really smoothly. We’re now at the point where we can start rolling out one new brand new, awesome looking racecar after another. We’ve worked just as hard this offseason as we did last season, it’s just that this year was more fine tuning where last year it was working on the larger stuff.

As many of you know the end of last year was memorable for more reasons than just good performances on the race track. I got engaged to my girlfriend, Megan, who I have been dating for quite some time. Megan has been cool with my racing career and she understands the hectic schedule that comes with the job. I am a very lucky guy.

Changing sports for a moment, I was really happy to see the Packers win the Super Bowl this past Sunday. In reality, it wasn’t so much that I was rooting for the “Pack” but rather I have a lot of fans who like Pittsburgh and they made me suffer through the AFC Championship game at a Steelers party, which was quite entertaining. So I decided that I had to go for the Packers because there were just too many people in my life going for the Steelers.

Quite honestly, I just wanted to see a good game with good commercials, since it is the Daytona 500 of football in my mind. I don’t really have a favorite NFL team. I’ll watch the Panthers just because I live in Charlotte. I’ve started to watch the Broncos now as well because of Tim Tebow, who I think is a character guy and has a cool story. No matter where he goes, everyone says he can’t do it and he keeps defying the odds. Plus, he’s a fellow Furniture Row guy. Aside from Tebow, our race shop is out there in Denver so I have to be able to talk a little bit of football even though I’m not a big expert.

Now that the offseason has officially ended, I’ve been really getting excited for what lies ahead. As for Daytona, I’m really happy about the rule change that allows past Rookie of the Year winners to participate in the Bud Shootout. I believe that race is going to do more for us than the tire tests last month. For the test, guys weren’t being as aggressive as they could be. In the Shootout, you’re duplicating a race situation, like it’s the last 10 laps of the 500.

We’re also going to see what the cars are capable of, how they take to the new asphalt and what it will allow us to do. We’ll get to see how the two car break-a-ways will work, specifically how far out they get from the main draft. You can’t put a price on how valuable that race is going to be. It’s going to help out when we go into the 150-mile qualifier race and gives us an advantage over the guys who didn’t get a chance to run the Shootout. Not to mention that in addition to preparing, we’ll be going for the win!

Looking beyond Speedweeks, we have some goals that we set for ourselves about where we want to be in points after certain races. For me personally, what’s more important than just a points position is to develop consistency. At the end of last year, I felt that we were about a 15th-to-17th place car. I’d like to see us fire off in that range at the beginning of this year, if not better. By the end of the season, I think it’s realistic to see the No. 78 Furniture Row car running right around the top 10 every week. I think that is a good, realistic personal goal with some of the stuff we changed this year. I have high expectations and I know the whole team does as well. We want to keep the “little engine that could” feeling going and upset some of these big guys.

I look forward to sharing my 2011 season with all of you. Thanks for your support of not only myself but of the entire Furniture Row Racing team! Enjoy Daytona!

Friday on the Frontstretch:
Four Burning Questions: Budweiser Shootout And Daytona 500 Qualifying Weekend
Why Jimmie Johnson Will Win it All (Again) in 2011 – And Why He Won’t
Who’s In, Who Isn’t: Daytona 500
Casey Mears Driver Diary: We’ve Got Potential
Five Questions For 2011: #4, Will The Nationwide Series Survive?
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