We figured this would happen. Unfortunately, a very talented driver in Regan Smith is without a ride since Dale Earnhardt Jr. is making his return to the series this weekend in Martinsville.
Smith lost his ride after Dover a few weeks ago when Furniture Row Racing decided to go forward with Kurt Busch. In Charlotte, Smith was taking over the No. 51 James Finch Chevy for the departed Busch and race the rest of the season for them.
Then Hendrick Motorsports came calling.
With the news breaking that Earnhardt would be out at least a couple of races due to a concussion Hendrick Motorsports went to the best available driver without a full-time ride. Smith hopped in the No. 88 Chevy one day later in Charlotte and was hoping to make the most of his opportunity. With the Finch seat vacant the team decided to former Red Bull Racing and Penske driver A.J. Allmendinger fill in.
Smith got his weekend off to a rough start in qualifying 26th for the Saturday night race. He turned it around in final practice and topped the speed charts. During the race, he had one of the best cars early as he was the fastest mover of the race. He cracked the top 10 and looked to be a real threat before the engine expired on Lap 61, leaving Smith with a 38th place finish.
He rebounded last week in Kansas with scoring his first top 10 with the team and second best finish of the season with a seventh. He once again came through the field and ran solid with a great car.
Today, Earnhardt announced he would be back this weekend but instead of going back to Finch, Smith was left without a ride. Finch said he was sticking with Allmendinger for Martinsville and leaving Smith out in the cold.
That’s unfortunate, as Smith is deserving of a ride. He’s actually deserving of a top ride.
Smith has run with underfunded equipment for his duration in the Cup series. He actually has overachieved in winning the Southern 500 last year for FRR and nearly winning the fall race in Talladega for DEI in 2008. He ended up winning Rookie of the Year that year, but never was given much of a chance.
Smith has eight top 10′s in 163 career Cup races and is now left on the outside looking in this weekend when many drivers not deserving of a chance are racing. When he had his chance with good equipment in the past two races I thought he ran more than well enough to show that his audition could land him a ride.
The problem is there’s not much open and he may never get a chance again with a top team. He’s rumored to be going to JR Motorsports next season in the Nationwide Series. I don’t feel he ought to go down to that level, but unless he finds sponsorship that’s the best he’s going to be able to pull.
RCR has both Dillon brothers coming up through the ranks so if they’re going to expand to a fourth car soon it’s going to go to one of them. Hendrick is maxed out at four and none of those guys are going anywhere. Roush Fenway is struggling to keep three cars on the track so adding a fourth wouldn’t make much sense especially with Trevor Bayne sitting there waiting. JGR is the only other place that could possibly field a fourth car, but he needs a full-time sponsorship gig to get a seat there. I don’t see that happening.
Like the rest of those top teams, JGR has Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Truex waiting in the wings for a Cup seat so he would just be keeping a seat warm for them. It looks like Smith is heading to the Nationwide Series and may never make an impact on the Cup series again. That’s unfortunate.
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