Regan Smith believes he can win the Daytona 500 in place of Kurt Busch


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – From the couch to the cockpit, Regan Smith will enjoy a much better seat for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Instead of watching the winner’s celebration on TV, he could be playing the starring role in the 57th running of the Great American Race.

“The biggest difference is I’ve got an opportunity to hop in a race car that’s more than capable of winning the Daytona 500,” Smith said Saturday morning before practicing the No. 41 Chevrolet in place of suspended Kurt Busch. “I want to make the most of that opportunity.”

Smith, who has become somewhat of a super sub in NASCAR’s premier series the past two years, has exhibited the ability to make a winning cameo on a restrictor-plate track in the Sprint Cup Series.

He actually took the checkered flag in the October 2008 race at Talladega Superspeedway while driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., but the victory was disallowed and handed to Tony Stewart after NASCAR ruled Smith had gone below the yellow line to win.

In his two most recent starts in Cup plate races, Smith finished seventh in the 2013 Daytona 500 and sixth at Talladega two months later while driving for Phoenix Racing.

He will have a car equipped with the same Hendrick Motorsports-supplied chassis and engine Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where Busch will miss the season opener after being indefinitely suspended Friday.

Smith spent Saturday morning getting acclimated with Busch’s ride, being fitted for the seat and learning the locations for toggle switches and buttons. He then drove in the final practice session.

“There are different things to worry about with the Cup car as compared to the Xfinity car,” said Smith, who has driven for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series the past two seasons and finished third and second in points with three victories. “It might take 15 to 20 laps to understand where (the cars) jump sideways. The situations should be similar, outside of that, and I anticipate it being relatively seamless.”

Smith, who spent Friday practicing for Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity race at Daytona, said he can’t explain his excellence in plate races.

“I wish I knew what led to the success,” he said. “There’s a certain level of comfort at this style of racing (and) trying to outthink guys.”

The Cato, N.Y., native, whose claim to fame is a victory in the 2011 Southern 500, already has familiarity with Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year, he filled in at Watkins Glen International for Tony Stewart, who missed the race after striking and killing Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint car race. He also filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in October 2012 when a concussion sidelined NASCAR’s most popular driver for two races.

No. 41 crew chief Tony Gibson told Smith the team still believes it can win with Smith.

“I’d say anytime you have a chance to hop in a car that’s fast and more than capable of winning races, you always have an opportunity to showcase your talent,” Smith said. “You have to think that way. I absolutely think we have a shot to win this race.”

He also will have a familiar spotter in Rick Carelli (who worked with Smith a few years ago).

Tony Stewart said last week that SHR had a contingency plan in place if Busch was removed from the car because of a protective order sought by his ex-girlfriend (it was granted Monday by a Delaware family court). Smith said he hadn’t had discussions with SHR about the ride beyond Daytona, nor had he spoken yet with Busch.

“I don’t know if I will or won’t,” he said. “Naturally since he’s been driving the car, it would be beneficial to talk to him and what can I expect out of this car. So if that opportunity presents, we’ll discuss that stuff. Outside of that, I haven’t spoken to him.”

He has been in regular contact with his wife, Megan, who is expecting their first child in a few weeks.

“My wife and I have a very good relationship,” Smith said with a laugh. “We had discussions prior to this happening. I asked her to keep her legs crossed as long as she can if she goes into labor. We’ll do what we can.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.