NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Regan Smith

Regan Smith

2011 Ride: No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsors: Furniture Row/Denver Mattress, Farm America
2011 Owner: Barney Visser
2011 Crew Chief: Pete Rondeau
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 5 top 10s, 4 DNFs, 26th in points

High Point: In his best year in Sprint Cup to date, Smith seemed to experience a new high point every couple of races in 2011. From being in contention to win the Daytona 500 late in the race to recording top-five qualifying efforts on several occasions, the No. 78 team was definitely turning some heads to start the season. However, the highest point came on Mother’s Day weekend at one of the most prestigious races on the circuit, the Showtime Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.

In a year that was dominated with pit strategy, crew chief Pete Rondeau was ready to roll the dice himself on this particular May evening by keeping his driver on the track during the final pit-stop sequence of the night. The move, after a solid top-10 effort catapulted Smith to the front with just 11 laps remaining. When the green flag waved, the Cato, N.Y. native drove perfect laps to hold off Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, only to have the field bunched up again by caution, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.

This time, it was points leader Edwards on his rear bumper and when Smith bounced off the wall going down the backstretch on the final lap, his Cinderella story appeared to be over. But as it turned out, that was not the case. Smith did not let off the gas and Edwards could not capitalize as both team and driver captured their first career victory.

This season also had its share of feel-good stories with underdog drivers breaking through in the win column and Smith was certainly one of the more memorable ones. In an emotional victory lane speech, he expressed gratitude towards his team and wished his biggest fan, his mother who was helping displaced animals impacted by the Alabama tornados, could be there with him. The win also served as vindication for Smith, who had a win taken away at Talladega in 2008 after dipping below the yellow line to pass Tony Stewart coming to the finish.

Low Point: The very next week at Dover, Smith’s team appeared to be riding high just a week after their maiden victory. The Furniture Row Racing Chevy was strong right off the truck, qualifying in the 11th position and running in the top 10 for much of the first quarter of the race. However, a broken track bar mount sent the No. 78 car behind the wall for several laps for repair, relegating Smith and company to a 34th-place finish.

The team recovered the next week with an eighth-place run at Charlotte, but had they been able to record the top-15 finish they were headed for at Dover, the team would have been in a good position after the three-race stretch to break into the top 20 in points. This surge would have put them in contention for one of the wildcard Chase positions. However, inconsistent finishes, such as the one at Dover, plagued this team all year long and prevented them from gaining any kind of momentum in the standings.

Summary: The 2011 season was by far the best season for both team and driver. Smith recorded a career high in wins, top-five and top-10 finishes, laps led and his 26th-place points position was his best result in three full-time years on the Sprint Cup circuit. The season provided plenty to cheer about including the Darlington win, a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500, a third at the Brickyard 400 and several strong qualifying efforts like the outside pole he captured at the spring Richmond race.

However, inconsistency certainly has left Smith and his entire FRR team wondering what could have been. Several times throughout the year, the No. 78 would cross the finish line towards the top of the scoring pylon, only to have a poor result the very next week, aided several times by a broken part, empty gas tank or an accident started by another driver.

In his final Frontstretch Diary of the season, Smith himself stated that the first thing that came to his mind when evaluating the year was the opportunities they didn’t capitalize on. Still, the entire organization can look back in a positive manner, as the foundation for building towards what looks like a very bright future.

Team Ranking: Team manager Joe Garone has expressed his desire to expand to a second team should they be able to secure sponsorship. However, until that happens, FRR will continue to be a one-car show with Smith is leading the way.

Off-Track News: Smith had a very busy year which included moving to Colorado, tossing the first pitch at a Rockies-Phillies game and debuting his blog which analyzes his beloved Carolina Hurricanes. However, the biggest news happened after the season when Smith married long-time girlfriend, Megan Mayhew. The ceremony was held in Palm Coast, Fla. over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

2012 Outlook: Next season will go a long way in determining where this team is heading. The No. 1 goal will be not only to create opportunities for solid finishes, but to capitalize on them as well. Both the FRR team and Smith are young and growing by NASCAR standards; it will be important for both to continue to take steps forward each year and not regress. With another year under their belts and continued support from Richard Childress Racing, all the pieces appear to be in place for this team to raise the bar to another level in 2012.

The team needs a major improvement in the consistency category for a shot at qualifying for the Chase by finishing the regular season in the top 10. That may be a stretch for next year; however, recording another win and finishing inside the top 20 is a realistic goal for both team and driver, which would may very well make them a wildcard favorite.

2008 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2009 Grade: Incomplete
2010 Grade: C
2011 Grade: B

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