Regan Smith

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Kevin Harvick wins pole for Coca-Cola 600; Kyle Larson starting from rear

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 after posting a top speed of 193.424 mph.

It is the 20th Cup pole of Harvick’s career and his third of this season. That is the second most for Harvick in a season following the eight he earned during his 2014 championship season.

“It was definitely breathtaking all three laps because it was so edgy to drive,” Harvick told Fox Sports 1. “All in all, I guess they say loose is fast. Just proud of my guys and that’s a good start to a long night.”

All three of Harvick’s poles have come at 1.5-mile tracks. At Atlanta, he led 292 laps and finished ninth after a pit penalty. At Texas, he led 77 laps and finished fourth.

Harvick also had the pole for last October’s race at Charlotte.

Following Harvick in the top five is Kyle Busch (192.513), Chase Elliott (192.260), Matt Kenseth (192.130) and Erik Jones (191.782).

Busch’s start is his best of the season. His previous best was third at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Erik Jones, a rookie, will also make his best start. His previous best was eighth at Phoenix Raceway.

In his final Coke 600 start, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 19th

Regan Smith, driving the No. 43 Ford for the injured Aric Almirola, will start 25th.

Kyle Larson climbs into his car as the No. 42 team scrambles to get him on track for a qualifying attempt (Photo by Dustin Long).

Teams continued to struggle with pre-qualifying inspection, but only two, points leader Kyle Larson and Corey LaJoie, were not able to make a qualifying attempt. Larson and his team scrambled to get the No. 42 Chevrolet on track in the final minute of the first round but it ended before Larson could make it.

“I guess it’ll be cooler to win from last than from the pole,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. Larson said he was more upset with himself for having made contact with the wall in Thursday’s practice session.

“It put us behind on getting to the tech line,” Larson said. “The machine wouldn’t work there late and probably cost us a minute, a minute and a half. Then we passed and we just didn’t have enough time to get out there.”

NASCAR told FS1 the laser inspection station was working properly, but that Larson’s team had improperly positioned his car, resulting in the delay in measurement.

“I won’t speak too much on it because I don’t know much about how that whole tech process works,” Larson said. “I know all the teams hate it. The teams point at NASCAR. NASCAR points at the teams. It’s confusing to me.”

But Larson isn’t concerned about having to start on the last row.

“It happened to us at Texas and we rebounded from that and finished second,” Larson said. “I’m not too worried about it.  I know the teams are frustrated with the tech process.  I know nothing about how it all works.  I don’t really have much to say about it other than I know my crew chief hates it.”

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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Regan Smith will drive No. 43 in Coke 600 for injured Aric Almirola

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Regan Smith will once again drive the No. 43 Ford in place of the injured Aric Almirola this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600.

Smith’s role as a substitute driver for Richard Petty Motorsports continues after he stepped in for Almirola last weekend in the Monster Energy Open. Smith finished fourth in the final stage of the race.

Almirola is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks as he recovers from a T5 compression fracture in his back. Almirola suffered the injury at Kansas Speedway in a major three-car crash.

MORE: Aric Almirola recounts Kansas crash.

Smith will be making his first start in a Cup points race this year. He currently drives for Ricky Benton Racing in the Camping World Truck Series.

Smith has 11 Cup starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a best finish of eighth in the 2011 Coke 600.

“To me, there are a lot of cool things about helping out again this weekend,” Smith said in a press release. “Being able to represent the Air Force on Memorial Day weekend and show appreciation to those who make the ultimate sacrifice is very special to me. I’m honored to race with Senior Airmen Mark Forester on the car and pay tribute to his sacrifice.

“As I said many times last weekend, to get to drive ‘The King’s’ 43 car means so much to me. The Coca-Cola 600 is one of my favorite races of the year, and Sunday is the coolest motorsports day. It will be a lot more fun being a part of such an iconic day than just being a spectator for all of the races.”

 

Kyle Busch wins Charlotte Truck race for second straight victory

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CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch swept all three stages and ran away with the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 for his second Camping World Truck Series win in a row.

Busch led 90 of 134 laps on the way to his seventh Truck win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In both his wins this year, Busch has swept all three stages.

Busch held off the field on a three-lap shootout following a late caution.

It’s Busch’s 48th career Truck win.

Busch was followed by Johnny Sauter, Christopher Bell, Ryan Truex and Timothy Peters.

Bell, the pole-sitter, competed for the win after he lost a tire on Lap 4 and went a lap down.

“I struggle on restarts, I don’t know why,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “It seemed like one time I would spin the tires and the next time I wouldn’t spin the tires. Overall bummed that I finished third with a second-place car.”

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Buch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Ryan Truex finished fourth after a pit penalty for the third top-five finish of his career … Johnny Sauter’s second-place finish is his best result at Charlotte in nine starts. It’s his second top-three finish in a row here. … Parker Kligerman finished 10th for his first top 10 since the April 2016 Martinsville race. Pit strategy allowed him to lead six laps in Stage 2.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Austin Cindric, who graduated from high school Friday morning, spun on Lap 32 to cause the second caution. He finished 19th … Kaz Grala was the cause of two cautions, getting involved in a wreck with Brandon Jones on Lap 60 and single-truck accident on Lap 69. He finished 30th. … John Hunter Nemechek and Brett Moffitt got into each other on Lap 78. Nemechek pitted after pit road had been closed and was penalized. He finished 22nd, two laps down  … Regan Smith wrecked with 33 to go after being turned on the frontstretch and hitting the wall on the driver’s side. He finished 29th.

NOTABLE: The No. 24 of Justin Haley failed height measurements in post-race inspection. Any penalties will come later in the week … With his win, Busch is three shy of Ron Hornaday Jr.‘s series record of 51 … Sauter is winless but has finished in the top three in four straight races.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “The record is just a number I guess. I remember when I passed Mark Martin on the Xfinity side and that was a lot of fun and pretty interesting. Look forward to hopefully passing Ron on the Truck side and be able to set that a little bit higher. Maybe one day when I’m all said and done on the Cup stuff, maybe I’ll run my retirement tour in the Truck Series, win the championship and get the trifecta.” – Kyle Busch on getting closer to Ron Hornaday Jr.’s Truck win record.

WHAT’S NEXT: Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway at 5:30 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

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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Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer lead Monster Energy Open practice

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The only practice session for the Monster Energy Open was led by Erik Jones, who posted a top speed of 189.056 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The top five was filled out by Clint Bowyer (187.970), Chase Elliott (186.400), Ryan Blaney (186.021) and AJ Allmendinger (185.893).

Filling in for the injured Aric Almirola, Regan Smith and the No. 43 Ford were sixth fastest.

The Monster Energy Open will send three drivers to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will advance via a fan vote.

Click here to see the full practice report.