Regan Smith has numerous starts at Darlington Raceway in both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series. He even has visited victory lane, scoring the win in the 2011 Southern 500. With experience, you’d think that’d make things easier, right?
“It seems no matter how many starts you have here you always find yourself in the course of the fence over the weekend,” Smith commented in the media center, referring to the famous Darlington stripe.
While experience won’t let you avoid that fate, Smith says experience allows you to know what you want your car to do throughout the practice session.
“I talked to Claire (Lang) about this on the radio and it’s a cliche that we say but you race the race track,” Smith expressed. “Sometimes it’s overused, but it isn’t because you don’t focus on the other cars as much, you don’t focus on what other guy are doing. You really work hard on getting your car good. The car has to be really comfortable and stable and underneath you to run the line that you need to run here to be quick. You just have to focus on keeping your car in one piece.”
Smith followed that principle in 2011, and it led to big success as he took Furniture Row Racing to victory lane.
“When we went and won the Southern 500, we said okay let’s go run 80% most of the race and then see where we are and run 100% the last 20 laps and by doing that, there was not a mark on that car till the last lap of the race,” Smith recalled. “There was something to say about that because the side was still the way you wanted it to be with the side force in it. Now I say that and then I watch Kyle Busch hit the wall here hard enough to park the car and still win, but that’s a rare oddity that it happens and the year he did that was the first year of the COT and it seemed those cars were like tanks.”
Smith says beyond the win in 2011, Darlington is a track that he has always enjoyed coming to as he likes to the style of racing it offers. Rather than focusing on running top notch laps every lap, drivers need to focus on conserving their equipment.
“I like that style of racing and it has seemed to always suite me well coming here,” Smith commented. “Every year we’ve come here, we’ve been in a position for a top 10 finish. To come here and put it all together and win that year, it makes it even more meaning and special.
“I grew up watching the Southern 500. I’ve seen videos of races here in the 60s and 70s and it was just nuts what guys were doing here back in the day.”
Smith is bargaining that experience will pay off as he looks to leap frog over his teammate and rookie Chase Elliott for the points lead as JR Motorsports continues to impress early this year.
“The atmosphere at the shop has been great this year,” Smith noted. “I think as a company we’re doing what we anticipated and thought we were capable of doing coming off of last year and what were building on. It’s been a really good attitude. I don’t know it’s surprising us because as a company we expect to run this good. The 7 team in particular – I feel we have some catching up to do. It’s a new bunch – new group of guys. We’re still lacking a little bit where we want to be.”