DENVER, Colo. (May 12, 2011) — The excitement of winning his first NASCAR race has not abated by any means according to Regan Smith, who stunned the motorsports world Saturday night with a gutsy performance in capturing the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
If anything, the excitement after his first taste of victory has only crescendoed as Smith and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team head to Dover (Del.) International Speedway for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race — the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
“I’m having so much fun since Darlington,” said the 27-year-old Smith. “It’s been an awesome experience and it makes me want to win again even more.”
Smith said he didn’t have any idea when he left Darlington what the following days were going to be like. He didn’t expect the many congratulatory messages from fans, fellow drivers, the folks in Denver where his Furniture Row team is based, family and friends from where he grew up in the Syracuse, N.Y. area and the ongoing media blitz.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was about to face,” noted Smith, who has handled more than 50 media interviews since taking the checkered flag in Darlington. “I haven’t quit smiling and laughing. No doubt, it’s been the best post-race week of my career. I am sure it’s been the same for Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) and all the guys.”
The quick-thinking Smith was the first to realize that his first win came with some hefty perks. When he was taking his victory lap in his Furniture Row Chevrolet at the 1.366-mile Darlington oval, he radioed his team members to inform them they are now qualified for the Sprint All-Star race and that his crew would be part of the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.
“With the hoopla, money and prestige involved with the Sprint All Star events, this is a big deal and a huge morale boost to everyone associated with our Furniture Row Racing team,” explained Smith. “I am really happy for our pit crew, they’ve done a great job and they deserve the honor.”
But while the All Star perks are huge, there is even a bigger carrot dangling for Smith and the Furniture Row Team. The victory immediately put Smith in position for a possible Chase berth. Under NASCAR’s new Chase rules, the top-10 drivers in points automatically qualify and the next two positions are awarded to the drivers with the most wins who are in the top-20 in points.
“Right now, we’re one of those two teams with the most wins, but we’re not in the top-20,” said Smith, who continues to lead the Cup series in qualifying with an 8.7 starting average. “We’re 27th in points and have our work cut out, but I firmly believe that we can get to the top 20. We would be there now had it not been for some horrible luck early on in the season.”
But all that bad luck was quickly erased when Smith brought home the Darlington trophy at one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
“The win is even more sweet because it came at Darlington, one of my favorite tracks,” stated Smith. “It wasn’t the place where I thought I would get my first win, but I am sure happy it was at Darlington at the Southern 500 race. In my opinion, it’s one of the top-four races in our series.”
Regarding Dover and the all-concrete Monster Mile, Smith said, “It’s another one of those difficult tracks that you better have respect for. Dover also ranks real high on my favorite-track list. It would be incredible to win again, but a strong performance and a good result would continue to keep the smiles on our faces.”