(Getty Images)

Sprint Cup return for Regan Smith: Will drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing

7 Comments

Hours after it was revealed that Alex Bowman would not return to drive for them in 2016, Tommy Baldwin Racing announced Thursday that it has signed Regan Smith to drive its No. 7 Toy State/Nikko RC Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series this season.

The announcement was revealed on Dave Moody’s SiriusXM Speedway show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“I’m excited to get to work for Tommy Baldwin Racing,” Smith told Moody. “I can’t tell you how blessed I am. Man, I’m just ready to get to work. … We’re both racers, so we’re going to work pretty damned hard.”

The deal came together in just two days, Smith told Moody. Baldwin called Smith on Tuesday, a deal was essentially struck Wednesday and was finalized Thursday.

“It’s been a whirlwind last couple of days,” Smith told Moody. “I literally just found out. It’s been a wild few days for me.

“It was one of those situations where you have to catch your breath, pinch yourself and say, ‘Man, is this real? What’s going on here?’ I’ve pinched myself a few times. It is real and I’m pretty pumped about it.”

Smith returns to the Sprint Cup Series after a three-year stint in the Xfinity Series. His last fulltime season in Sprint Cup was 2012 with Furniture Row Racing before he was replaced by Kurt Busch with six races left in the season.

He spent the last three seasons driving for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, and proved to be a big success, finishing third in 2013, second in 2014 and fourth in 2015. Even so, JRM chose not to renew his contract for 2016. Smith earned all six of his Xfinity Series wins with JRM, including a one-off appearance in 2012.

In a sense, Bowman and Smith are trading places in a way. While Smith replaces Bowman at TBR, Bowman will drive at least nine races for JRM in the team’s “all-star” car in the Xfinity Series, sharing the ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott.

Smith will drive the No. 7 for TBR, the same number he drove for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Tommy Baldwin Racing announced just last month a multi-year sponsorship extension with Toy State and Nikko RC, with Bowman slated to be the driver for a second straight season in 2016.

“It just seemed like a good fit,” Smith told Moody of his decision to go with TBR. “Tommy (Baldwin Jr.) is someone I’ve had a lot of respect for and have for a number of years. I’ve watched what he’s built with Tommy Baldwin Racing, it’s a group that works hard and they pour every ounce of everything they have into their race cars — and they’re going to get nothing less than that from me when I sit in the race cars every week.”

Smith, who has one career win in the Sprint Cup Series, ran 4 races in the series in 2015 as a fill-in driver, driving the first three races of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing in place of the suspended Kurt Busch, and one race for Chip Ganassi Racing, filling in after Kyle Larson passed out the day before and was hospitalized for tests and observation.

“My experience is going to be one thing for certain,” Smith said when Moody asked what he brings to TBR. “There’s no racetracks we go to that I feel like I have to go out and re-learn it or see something I haven’t seen before. The experience is going to be a big factor and the ability to communicate with Tommy is something we’re going to lean on heavily.”

Here are more comments from Smith to Moody:

— “I feel like I’m at the prime of my career. I feel I’ve worked hard to learn these race cars and these racetracks. Now that I have that confidence as a driver, I didn’t want to lose that.”

— “It happened quick. I’ve never had anything happen like this. Three weeks before (Daytona), I didn’t think that was possible. I’m still kind of in awe right now.”

— “It’s terrifying when you’re that close to the start of a season and you don’t have something lined up, it’s a very scary situation. Racing is my livelihood. That’s what I do for a living. The reality was starting to set in for me that I might have to pursue other interests and do other things. I wasn’t ready for that to happen to me yet. I’m only 32, so I’m relatively young.”

— “I can learn how to drive a nail with a hammer, maybe. I definitely had to think about that a lot. It’s something that was a question in my head. I told myself and my wife that this is what I like to do, I’m still young enough to do it, and I’m going to figure out whatever I have to do to drive a race car. I really questioned if that was going to be the case, as recently as Monday, having those questions in my head and what was going to take place.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

All-Star winners & losers

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Kyle LarsonHe joked that by running in the Monster Open he was in the B Main, but he won the final stage to advance to the All-Star Race and then went on to win the main event. He became only the fourth driver in All-Star history to win the event after transferring in from the preliminary race.

Bubba Wallace It was the night he needed. He’s referenced recently how tough things have been on him in his life. After losing the opening stage of the Monster Open, a “pissed off” Wallace won the next stage in a tight finish to advance to the All-Star Race and get a big hug from Ryan Blaney. Wallace went on to finish fifth in the All-Star Race and beamed afterward. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said.

Fans — They saw spectacular finishes in the first two stages of the Monster Open, saw three-wide racing at times during the night, saw a different winner this season in Kyle Larson, and saw Clint Bowyer run to Ryan Newman’s car and start swinging at Newman, who remained in the car, in retaliation for contact that sent Bowyer into the wall on the cool-down lap. What more do you want?

LOSERS

Erik JonesThe best thing that can be said about his rough night was that it was a non-points race so his last-place finish didn’t hurt him in his bid to make the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick’s pit crew — Harvick was not happy with how his pit crew performed after his second-place finish. After winning the second stage, Harvick lost six spots on pit road and then had a loose wheel a few laps into the run. Said Harvick of his crew: “They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great.”

Fabricators — The All-Star Race promotes beating and banging and there was a good bit of it Saturday. There were five incidents in the 150 laps of racing on the night for incidents, involving nine different cars. Many others also were beat up. Of course, imagine if they held an All-Star Race on a short track.

Being in Open was key for 4 drivers who transferred into All-Star Race

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday night showed the significance of how competing in the Monster Energy Open can pay big dividends in the NASCAR All-Star Race.

All four drivers who transferred from the Open – stage winners William Byron, Bubba Wallace and race winner Kyle Larson, along with fan vote winner Alex Bowman – showed their mettle by finishing in the top 10 of the All-Star Race, led by Larson, who took the checkered flag.

“I always think if there’s one positive to being in the B Main (the Open), it’s that you get that extra track time,” Larson said. “I feel like in the first few laps, those guys that are in the B main can be really aggressive because they know the limits of the race car and stuff.

“So you can see the four of us or whatever kind of be really aggressive and get to the mid-pack pretty quickly. And then everybody kind of figures it out after that. But there’s a slight advantage for the first 10, 15 laps, I think, of being in that race.”

It was the second time that Larson has won the Open – he also took the checkered flag in 2016 – and transferred into the All-Star Race.

Added Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston: I felt like when you run the Open, you kind of have an advantage — especially with the first 30-lap run of being on track, knowing what to expect, being able to adjust on your car. Where the guys that are in the All-Star Race don’t have that. So it’s a good time to take advantage of that information and being able to gain some of the track position back pretty quickly.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the Open came afterward when Stage 2 winner Wallace cried in joy of putting himself and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into the main event.

“It’s been hard, been really hard,” Wallace said of his season to date. “I was trying to hold them (tears) back and telling yourself you can’t do it anymore is tough. To give up and whatnot.

“I gave up the first Stage win and I didn’t say anything on the radio. But my parents and everyone that has always helped me always said, when I am pissed off I drive better. So, I did everything I could. I told myself to quit, and don’t even try again for the second Stage.

“My mental game is really shot right now, but damn it feels good to win something. I have failed at a lot of things in life recently, but I am working to make those things better.”

Wallace would go on to finish fifth in his first career appearance in the All-Star Race.

“I had tons of fun tonight,” Wallace said. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different.

“The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”

As for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Byron, who won the first stage of the Open, and fan vote winner Bowman, the preliminary race helped in finishing eighth and ninth, respectively, in the All-Star Race.

“It was just amazing, it feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race,” Byron said of his first appearance in the event. “I’ve been coming to this race since I was about five or six years old. It’s really exciting to be a part of it. It was huge, we needed this. We’ve had some really good qualifying efforts this year; we just needed to finish it off with something positive and this was definitely positive for us. I’m excited for it.”

Said Bowman: “You want to race your way in, and we did that last year and had a car very capable of doing that this year. Restarts didn’t go our way, and it is what it is.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

All-Star Race leaves Bubba Wallace with a big smile

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
2 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — It was a smile that wasn’t forced, a smile that didn’t deflect, and a smile that was not laced with hidden meanings.

This was genuine, perhaps a little forgotten, but oh so nice.

“I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said after a night that saw him win a stage in the Monster Open to advance to the All-Star race and then finish fifth in that event.

It has been a long time since Wallace could feel so good. He noted last week that he had been depressed about things in his life. Results on the track also had not been inspiring.

Asked earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway what his team was lacking, Wallace said: “Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

He has not finished better than 17th in a points race this season. He has one top-10 results in his last 41 points races. That runner-up finish for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in the 2018 Daytona 500 – and the tearful hug with his mother – seems so long ago. 

All of that can make it hard to smile.

That’s why Saturday meant so much to Wallace. He won (the second stage in the Monster Open), earning a hug from Ryan Blaney in the garage. Wallace then finished close enough to the front in the All-Star Race that he could see the leaders.

Yet, this night started with the same cruelty that has struck him so often on the track. Wallace was in the lead on the final lap of the opening stage of the Monster Open but William Byron nipped Wallace by inches at the line.

Wallace yelled an adult word repeatedly on the radio to express his frustration.

“Ever since I was a kid, they said I drive better when I’m pissed off,” Wallace said. “I was pissed off. I was really off after that. I let that one go. I thought that was it. Then the caution came out (in the second stage) and the same scenario.”

Another overtime finish.

“I’m not giving it up this time,” Wallace said. “So you’ve got to do what you’ve got do.”

This time Wallace raced Daniel Suarez on the last lap of the stage for the win. They made contact. Suarez spun and Wallace won to earn a spot in his first All-Star Race.

Wallace ran toward the back of the 19-car field in the first two stages. He moved into the top 10 in the third stage, finishing sixth.

He started outside the top 10 in the final 15-lap stage but was ninth in a couple of laps. Wallace moved up as others pitted with 12 laps to go and climbed up to fourth after a restart. Joey Logano passed Wallace with four laps to go, dropping Wallace to fifth. He held off Aric Almirola to finish there.

How much did that all that mean for him?

“I’m showing teeth in my smile,” Wallace said. “So that says a lot.”

Yes, it did.

Kevin Harvick on pit crew: ‘They just weren’t prepared tonight’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick described his runner-up finish in Saturday night’s All-Star Race as “terrible” because of the struggles on pit road.

Harvick won the second stage but lost six spots on pit road and then suffered a loose wheel a few laps later. He was helped when a caution came out for an incident that involved Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon. That kept him from needing to pit under green and lose a lap. But even that didn’t cool his frustration after finishing second to Kyle Larson for the $1 million prize. 

“We shot both of our feet off with the absolute dominant car,” said Harvick, who won last year’s All-Star Race. “The guys did a great job preparing the race car and weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight.”

Asked if changes need to be made to the pit crew, Harvick said:

“They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great. That’s for sure. Spotted the whole field, started the tail back with 15 laps to go.

“All you’ve got to do is the same pit stop you do every week. It is not any different. You’ve just got to be prepared. They just weren’t prepared tonight.”

Harvick said he expects the pit crew to be better for next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

“They’re experienced enough,” said Harvick, who led 33 of 88 laps. “They know that it didn’t go the way they wanted it to go. They’ll go back and they’ll be ready. That’s the great part about having an experienced pit crew. They can go back and fix it. They better fix it.”