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

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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.”

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Saturday NASCAR schedule at Talladega Superspeedway

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Both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup cars will start the day’s action by qualifying for Sunday’s playoff race, followed by the Truck playoff race and then the Xfinity playoff race.

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday, Oct. 1

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

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

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.