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With Aric Almirola out, Regan Smith steps into ‘The King’s car’ this weekend

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CONCORD, N.C. — Aric Almirola loomed large over Regan Smith on Friday during his first meeting with the media as driver of the No. 43 Ford.

Smith stood outside the team’s hauler at Charlotte Motor Speedway. An oversized image of Almirola wearing the same firesuit as Smith hovered over the group on the hauler’s rear door.

“It doesn’t quite fit me, he’s a little bit smaller than me,” joked Smith, who is three inches shorter than the 6-foot Almirola.

Three and half hours earlier, Almirola announced in a press conference he would miss at least eight to 12 weeks for a T5 compression fracture in his back. The injury was a result of a fiery crash last weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Smith, a veteran of 211 Cup races and now five high-profile substitutions in the last five years, received his latest call for help Wednesday morning, four days after he and wife Megan watched Almirola’s crash.

“I didn’t know much until then,” Smith said. “Obviously, I knew that he was hurt, but didn’t know to what extreme or anything like that. When they called and said, ‘Hey, can you do this weekend?’  I said, ‘Absolutely.  I’d be honored to and I’d love to,’ and that was pretty much it. … I don’t know if it’s good or bad doing these type of things, but I feel like I’ve got quite a bit of experience at it at this point.  They’re all different and they’re all unique in their own way, but they kind of flow the same way.”

Since 2012, Smith has substituted for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson in a total of seven races.

It’s Smith’s reliability that led Richard Petty Motorsports CEO Brian Moffitt to call the driver.

“We feel like he’s gonna bring the car home safe and consistency is what we were looking for and he has that type of record,” Moffitt said. “He drives a lot like Aric and that’s what helped us come to this conclusion.”

The first time the 33-year-old driver stepped into someone else’s car was for Earnhardt in October 2012 at Charlotte after Earnhardt suffered a concussion. Smith was originally going to drive the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing before he received an early morning text message from Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte.

“That one was a little more last minute,” Smith said. “That was the day of, nobody knew he was hurt, so I didn’t even have it on my radar.  I was coming here to hop in a different race car and was mentally prepared for that. When you look at this particular situation there was a little bit of time. You could go to the shop. You can sit in the car. You can adjust things. It’s not quite as on the fly as that was.  You mentally kind of prepare for what the weekend is gonna look like and you have an opportunity to sit down and talk.”

Smith is preparing for the Monster Energy Open, the prelude to Saturday night’s All-Star Race. Not eligible for the fan vote, the only way Smith can advance is by winning one of the three stages in the 50-lap Open. He’ll be doing so under the leadership of crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.

“Me and Drew sat down and talked, and we’ve been around each other quite a bit this year anyways with the TV stuff (at Fox Sports 1) that we do, so we’re familiar with each other and we’ve known each other from the past,” Smith said. “I’d have to look, but I’m pretty sure we’ve never worked anywhere together through the years, but it makes it a little bit easier when you do have that time.

“Those other ones I’ve done in the past, where it was literally the day of, you just hoped that you fit and those can be a little bit trickier.  I had one where I hopped in for a guy at a race track. It was years ago at Dover. I think it was (David) Stremme who got sick and couldn’t finish the race and I hopped in during the race. Those are very challenging.”

But the car Smith climbed into Friday is not just any car. It’s the car with the most famous number in NASCAR history. His ride comes as he competes part-time in the Camping World Series following his fifth full-time Cup season.

“When I look back to the end of last season and not knowing what I was doing this year, you never know,” Smith said. “I was kind of thinking I would get an opportunity in a Cup car at some point in some capacity. When this all kind of shook down, I kind of thought about it the other night and I’m like, ‘That’s pretty cool. That’s the King’s car you’re gonna hop into.’ That’s a special car and there’s a lot of history behind that car.”

But his stint in the car, however long it is, will have “more of an emotional investment” due to his friendship with Almirola. The two were teammates at Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2008 after DEI merged with the team owned by Bobby Ginn.

“We got to know each other really well through all that,” Smith said. “We worked with a lot of the same people. …  I’ve leaned on Aric in a lot of different situations. Him and (wife) Janice are the same age as my wife (Megan) and myself. We’ve both got two kids and we both have two kids with very similar age gaps apart, and last year when we were expecting our second they were two people we leaned on and talked to a lot as to what to expect and what it would look like.”

Smith’s substitute weekend got off to a good start. In the only practice session for the Open, Smith made the No. 43 the sixth fastest car.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway recap, West Coast Awards

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and looks back at the weekend’s racing at Auto Club Speedway.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett from the “Big Oak Table” at NBC Charlotte.

What to expect from the show.

  • Martin Truex Jr. flashed his championship form from last year and earned his first win of the 2018 season Sunday in Fontana. We’ll recap the last race of NASCAR Goes West from around the “Big Oak Table” at our NBC Sports studios in Charlotte. Plus, Rut and the gang will hand out the West Coast awards, honoring the best moments from the Vegas-Phoenix-Fontana run.
  • NASCAR is a sport built on families, and it’s seen lots of kids grow up at the track through the years. We’ll spend time discussing the next generation to catch the racing bug – including Harrison Burton, son of our Jeff Burton.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http:/

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Landon Cassill gets Cup ride for Martinsville, Texas

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Landon Cassill will drive the No. 00 for StarCom Racing in the next two races, Martinsville and Texas, the team announced Monday.

Cassill replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt. StarCom Racing and Earnhardt parted ways after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark Cassill’s first Cup race of the year. The 28-year-old has 259 career Cup starts and a career-best finish of fourth at Talladega in October 2014. He drove for Front Row Motorsports the past two seasons but was not retained after last year.

Cassill’s sponsor the next two races will be the United States First Responders Association, a non-profit, professional and social network of fire, EMS, rescue, law enforcement and military personnel, as well as civilian support teams.

StarCom Racing was privileged to acquire a new partnership with USFRA and Landon Cassill behind the wheel,” said Derrike Cope, team manager, in a statement. “I’m optimistic that his knowledge and experience will only help our efforts as well as the growth of our team.”

Said Cassill in a statement: “I love working with new teams. I feel like that is one of my strengths. StarCom Racing looks like they are in it for the long haul, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

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Hendrick Motorsports withdraws appeal of Phoenix penalties against No. 9 team

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Hendrick Motorsports has withdrawn its appeal of penalties against Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 team from last weekend’s race in Phoenix, NBC Sports confirmed.

NASCAR found a L1 infraction on Elliott’s car in the rear-suspension after the race at ISM Raceway.

NASCAR stated that the team’s truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mounting surfaces must be planar and in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.

NASCAR fined crew chief Alan Gustafson $50,000, suspended car chief Josh Kirk two races and docked Elliott 25 points and the team 25 owner points. Elliott’s third-place finish in the race will not count toward any tiebreakers.

Following Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where Elliott finished 16th, he is 21st in the point standings.

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Preliminary entry lists for Martinsville

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NASCAR visits a short track for the first time this season when it heads to Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track on the circuit.

The Cup Series is joined by the Camping World Truck Series, which has been off the last two weeks.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – STP 500

There are 38 cars entered.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is listed as driving StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet, but the team announced Sunday it has parted ways with Earnhardt.

Landon Cassill will take his place this weekend and at Texas Motor Speedway.

D.J. Kennington is entered in his third race this season, driving Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Ross Chastain is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for the fifth time this season.

Harrison Rhodes is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. Rhodes has one start in the No. 51 at Atlanta.

Last year, Brad Keselowski won this race after leading 116 of 500 laps. He beat Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. In the fall playoff race, Busch won over Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Click here for the entry lists.

Trucks – Alpha Energy Solutions 250

There are 36 trucks entered.

Todd Gilliland will make his first start of the season in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4 Toyota.

His father, David Gilliland, is entered in DGR-Crosley’s No. 54 Toyota.

Timothy Peters will make his first start of the year driving Ricky Benton Racing’s No. 92 Ford. A former driver for the defunct Red Horse Racing, Peters’ last start was in the 2017 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, Chase Elliott won this race over Johnny Sauter and Christopher Bell. The fall playoff race was won by Noah Gragson over Matt Crafton and Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.