Racing in the Sprint Cup Series week to week is as tough for Regan Smith and Furniture Row Racing as it is for the points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Still, given the limitations in resources at the small team, Smith is holding his own. He is 30th in the point standings and has made the field for every race. He is coming off his best finish of the season, a 12th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The 27-year-old Cato, N.Y., native was the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year.
In 2008, Smith, then driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., took the checkered flag a Cup race in Talladega, Ala. A controversial penalty for "passing under the yellow line" overturned the victory, which was awarded instead to Tony Stewart. The record books show Smith as finishing 18th.
A late caution flag in Fontana put Smith’s No. 78 Chevy near the front of the field in the Pepsi Max 400. Crew chief Pete Rondeau elected to change two tires while the leaders were all changing four. That left Smith in second place and with 13 laps remaining, he briefly took the lead.
The worn left-side tires took a toll on Smith’s performance, but it was worth a shot.
"Two tires worked for us," Smith said. "We got the much-needed track position. Pete (Rondeau) made a really good call at the end. When we took the two tires, the car was pretty good. I was just lacking a little bit of grip to hold it for much more than that one lap. But to still maintain 12th was pretty good. It’s just frustrating to be so close to the top 10 and not get it."
What made the comeback even more noteworthy was the fact that Smith had twice been penalized earlier in the race.
"It was a roller-coaster day for us," he said. "We were running in the top 15 early and then got called for speeding twice on pit road, which moved us all the way back to the low 30s in track position.
"I guess misery loves company."
Dutton has covered motorsports for the Gaston Gazette in North Carolina since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog, nascar.rbma.com, features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.