2014 Ride: No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet
2014 Crew Chief: Ryan Pemberton
2014 Points Finish: Second
2014 Nationwide Series Stats: 33 starts, 1 win, 7 top fives, 26 top 10s, 0 poles, 133 laps led, 0 DNFs, 10.6 average start, 8.9 average finish.
2014 Best Finish: First (Daytona I)
High point: Smith started off the 2014 season with a bang. On a late-race restart at Daytona in February, he passed Brad Keselowski in the final few feet with help from Trevor Bayne to win his lone event of the season. The restrictor-plate contests were his strong point throughout the season, and the win at Daytona helped him carry over momentum to earn 13 consecutive top 10s to start off the year. Leading 35 laps in the season-opener was the second highest mark for him on the year; just 12 laps behind his season-high at Daytona in July.
Low point: Kansas was pretty rough for the No. 7 team. Entering that event, he was just 26 points behind teammate Chase Elliott for the championship lead. However, after starting at the rear of the field, he worked his way into the top 10 until he experienced a broken sway arm that evidently made him finish outside of the top 20. Smith left Kansas trailing Elliott by 38 markers and followed it up with back-t0-back 11th-place finishes.
Throughout the year, he struggled at the intermediate tracks. Besides having some untimely luck at those events, the one-time Cup Series winner had five finishes outside the top 10 at intermediate speedways, which was the difference maker in the championship battle. Although he was consistently racing for a spot in the top 10, it was rare for him to earn a top five at an intermediate track with just one top five (Kentucky) at a 1.5-mile track. At Bristol, he tangled with Ty Dillon and the two had a heated battle of words following the race, which is rare for Smith.
Summary: Smith’s second season with JR Motorsports was a solid one. Arguably the most consistent driver in the sport, he was always running inside the top 10, even when he was struggling. Although he showed speed on the year at the short tracks and restrictor-plate events, Smith didn’t have enough power to contend for wins like he did in 2013.
Entering 2014, there were high expectations for this team. He was expected to win the championship, but Ryan Pemberton and he just didn’t click like expected. Greg Ives, who headed over to the No. 9 team in 2014 after working with Smith, led Elliott to the title with the experience of finishing third in points last year. Smith was likely disappointed to not win it all, but the bright side is that he lost out to his teammate, so it’s a moral victory at the least.
Driving in top equipment with Cup drivers as his teammates, JRM gave Smith everything he needed to win the title. However, the No. 7 team lacked the extra speed that the Nos. 9 and 5 cars had throughout the year, though he finished the most laps in the division and tied Elliott with the most top 10s.
2015 Outlook: There is going to be a new man at the top of the pit box for Smith: Jason Burdett, who has served as a car chief at Hendrick Motorsports. Smith is expected to contend for the title once again, and with additional resources due to their partnership with HMS, he is going to be even stronger in 2015. If all goes well, he might be able to earn a mid-level Cup Series ride just like Sam Hornish Jr. was able to do.
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