By Brody Jones
The 2011 NASCAR season has been chock full of storylines, ranging from Trevor Bayne’s miraculous Daytona 500 triumph to Jeff Gordon breaking a long winless drought and so many other storylines. One storyline that has, amazingly, been given little to no media attention whatsoever has been the early-season qualifying prowess of Cato, New York’s Regan Smith. In a category where one would expect names like Carl Edwards or Jimmie Johnson to dominate, it has been the unheralded Regan Smith that, going into Texas, was averaging a 5.8 qualifying average, and after a 5th place start at Texas, that number is only going to go up further. But it’s not as if Regan’s qualifying expertise happened overnight. No, race fans, back in his rookie season in the USAR Pro Cup Series, he accumulated four pole positions that year.
Regan Smith started his NASCAR career back in 2002 as another discovery by the Mittler Brothers Truck Series team at South Boston Speedway. In 2003, he started racing in the NASCAR Busch Series for the ill-fated Bost Motorsports operation. He would earn three-top 20 finishes in the first half of that season, but was eventually out of a ride when Bost was forced to turn to other ride-buyers. His hard luck continued in 2004 when after joining Michael Holigan Racing, after only a handful of races, the team was forced to suspend operations. In 2005, if Regan hadn’t had bad luck, he would have had no luck at all as he lost his Xpress Motorsports ride due to a lack of funding and he was released from Glynn Motorsports that year as well.
In 2006, he parlayed a top-20 points finish with Team Rensi Motorsports in the Busch Series into a gig with Ginn Racing in 2007 where, again, mitigating factors beyond his control almost derailed his career again when Ginn merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. just as Regan was slated to take over the #14 Waste Management Chevrolet, leaving Regan again up the creek without a paddle. In 2008, he ran full-time with D.E.I. on limited sponsorship for the full season and at the 2008 Amp Energy Drink 500, he seemed to have scored a miraculous first career victory, but, on par for the hard luck Regan has had in his career, NASCAR dictated that Regan was below the yellow line, stripping him of his win and awarding it to Tony Stewart despite Smith’s protests he was forced below the yellow line.
More misfortune followed at the close of the season when D.E.I. shut down the #01 team due to a lack of funding, even though Regan was the 2008 NASCAR Rookie Of The Year. He managed to land on his feet with Furniture Row Racing in 2009 for a limited schedule and performed very well for the underfunded team, making all but two races he was slated to race in that year, which paved the way for a 2010 season that saw him finish 12th twice and earn a 28th place position in the final point standings, a career best for him. And 2011 started on a tremendously high note as Regan had one of the best cars on the track all of Speedweeks at Daytona and turned several heads during the 500 en route to an impressive 7th place finish. While it was a nice run, many dismissed his great qualifying effort as a one-hit wonder. Over the first seven races, he has started in the top 10 in six out of the seven races on the schedule so far and has started no worse than 12th proving his strong qualifying effort at Daytona was no fluke.
Granted, his on track performance since Daytona has been less than ideal, finishing no better than 22nd but this year has proven that Regan Smith has the speed to qualify with the best in the business. Maybe, just maybe, after all of the forks in the road that Regan has had to endure, he just might have finally proven his worth in the highly-competitive world of NASCAR. One thing is for certain, though. Regan didn’t have anything handed to him and despite all the adversity when lesser drivers would have phoned it in and called it a career, Regan has persevered. Will he be a Sprint Cup Champion one day? Highly unlikely, but one cannot ever question whether Regan Smith has the resolve to make it in the world of NASCAR.