2010 Ride: No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2010 Primary Sponsors: Furniture Row (33 races), Farm American (“Car of the Heartland,”) 3 races
2010 Owner: Barney Visser
2010 Crew Chiefs: Ryan Coniam (Beginning of season to Coca-Cola 600), Pete Rondeau (June – Nov.)
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, 28th in points
High Point: More or less, the majority of the Chase. During the all-important last few weeks of the season, Smith and the No. 78 team started to click. Two dual 12th-place finishes occurred three weeks apart in October, both of which were earned under different and trying circumstances. At Fontana, the team gambled on staying out on the last caution. The move gave Smith second on the restart, albeit with older tires, and the driver held tough to claim 12th. Talladega, of course, is Talladega. Smith merely avoided the wrecks to bring home a top-15 finish.
Even more impressive, though, were Smith’s qualifying efforts late in the season. When Ryan Coniam was still Smith’s crew chief, throughout the spring the No. 78 team struggled on Fridays. Excluding the Daytona 500, since it has a unique system to set the field, Smith failed to qualify any better than 20th before Coniam was replaced after Memorial Day Weekend. F
ridays improved gradually after Pete Rondeau took over, but come autumn, they stepped it up considerably – Smith ripped off four top-20 starts in a five-week stretch. The last three races of the season happened to be Smith’s three best qualifying runs, starting eighth at Texas, eighth at Phoenix and 10th at Homestead. The good qualifying runs meant that the team didn’t have to charge from the rear as often, allowing Smith to save the car a little and charge over the final 100 miles of the race.
Low Point: The low point differs depending on if you’re talking about the team or Smith himself. For Smith, his low point was right at midseason. In Sonoma, he was caught up in a massive crash on a restart, knocking him out of the race on the spot and suffering a broken left wrist in the process. Smith had a minor surgical procedure to repair the break, driving for three months with a soft cast. The next two races were miserable for the team, scoring a pair of 33rd-place finishes as they entered a post-injury slump. The team was simply uncompetitive at Loudon, then got caught up in the big crash at the Coke Zero 400 in July.
For the team itself, they lost their hauler right at the end of the season in a multi-vehicle wreck on Interstate 25 in Colorado. Returning from the Kobalt Tools 500k in Phoenix, the team’s transporter and motorhome encountered a pileup on icy roads and simply could not avoid the crash. Everything was totaled, and only assistance from Richard Childress Racing allowed them to have the proper spare equipment to race in Homestead.
Summary: For Smith, he was likely just happy to be able to do the full 36-race schedule once again in 2010. Economic woes forced the merger of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates at the end of 2008, forming Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. The No. 01 that Smith drove that year was a casualty of the merger. With nothing full-time available for 2009, Smith signed with FRR and had to make do with a half-season schedule, this single-car team picking and choosing the races where they could be most competitive.
For 2010, Furniture Row stepped back up to full-time status with Smith behind the wheel. The results were not great in the first half of the season, but enough to lock the team into the Top 35. After Charlotte in May, the team fired crew chief Coniam and replaced him from within with Rondeau, best known as Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s crew chief on the Budweiser No. 8 in 2005. Under Rondeau, the team’s fortunes did improve later in the season. By October, the No. 78 was really starting to surprise with their ability to run in the top 20 on a weekly basis.
Last year, Frontstretch‘s Mike Lovecchio predicted that Smith would start three-quarters of the races and record one top-10 finish. Despite running the full schedule, Smith was unable to break into the top 10, although the team was finally showing signs of such a feat being possible towards the end of the year.
Team Ranking: First. Of course, FRR is a single-car operation, so Smith wins the battle by default.
Off-Track News: Smith proposed to his girlfriend of nearly seven years, Megan, right after Thanksgiving. She said yes.
2011 Outlook: For 2011, there are no major changes going into Daytona. Smith re-signed with the team through 2012 in August and Rondeau will be back in his crew chiefing role. The technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing will continue. Smith finished the 2010 season with some momentum in his favor. Therefore, it would not be inappropriate to expect a little bit more from the No. 78 team in 2011. Improvement in the final point standings to at least 25th should be expected. Also, 2011 should be the year that Smith earns his first career top-10 finish.
Furniture Row will continue to serve as the primary backer on the No. 78, but they have formed a marketing department to help find additional sponsors for the team. The stated goal is to find a “business partner” for the No. 78 and another major corporation to help fund a future second car.
2008 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2009 Grade: Inc.
2010 Grade: C
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