DENVER, Colo. (May 25, 2011) — Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marks the one year anniversary when Pete Rondeau took over the crew chief role for driver Regan Smith and Furniture Row Racing.
Without bias or argument, the Rondeau/Smith duo in one year, along with the entire Furniture Row team, have made a big leap in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The exclamation mark for the Denver, Colo.-based team came three weeks ago when Smith won at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, his first career win, and also the first win for the Furniture Row Racing franchise.
“We’ve made some gains, but we have more to make,” said Rondeau. “You don’t look back at what you accomplished, you need to look forward. We have good chemistry, good communication, a talented staff and a committed management. You can’t ask for more. I feel we’re going to continually get better as the season progresses.”
Smith, whose strong season finish in 2010 with three top-13 results in the last seven races, was an indicator of what was to come in 2011.
The 27-year-old Cato, N.Y. native started the season strong, nearly winning the Daytona 500. He led with five laps to go, but a few laps later he was shoved into the wall. But he hung on to finish seventh, his first career top-10.
After the first 11 races of the current season, Smith has made his mark as a top qualifier. He continues to lead the Sprint Cup Series with an 8.9 starting average.
“No question, we have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go,” explained Smith. “We have definitely made progress. Now that we won a race, I am not sure if you can really be happy if you don’t take the big trophy home. But as Pete (Rondeau) keeps on saying, we need to stay patient, calm and not get ahead of ourselves. He’s been a good leader and has helped me a lot as a driver.”
Smith added, “We’ve seen the highs and the lows in the past three weeks, and the highs are what we need to get back to. After the big win in Darlington (May 7), we had a mechanical issue in Dover and last week at the Sprint All-Star Race a fuel problem kept us from making a charge at the end.”
The Coca-Cola 600 will be Smith’s fifth start at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he is looking to pick up where he left off. At last year’s fall race at CMS, he posted a 13th-place finish.
“I love this track, and deep down, I know we can do well here,” said Smith. “The good news is that our Furniture Row Chevrolets the past two races have been solid when they were healthy. I am looking for the same in the Coca-Cola 600 — a strong race car, capable of running up front. We just need to avoid the gremlins and not make mistakes.”