SOUTHERN 500: Regan Smith

After taste of victory, few nibbles

Driver looking for jump-start from Darlington

The Charlotte ObserverMay 11, 2012 

  • Darlington schedule Friday 9 a.m. Gates open 9-10:30 a.m. Nationwide Series practice 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice 2:15-3 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice 3:35 p.m. Nationwide Series qualifying 5:10 p.m. Sprint Cup Series qualifying 6:45 p.m. Driver introductions 7:15 p.m. VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 (200.8 Miles) Saturday 7:30-11:30 a.m. Richard Petty Driving Experience Ride Along Program 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Track walk (Renewal customers only. Must have track walk ticket) 2 p.m. Gates open 6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series driver introductions 7 p.m. Bojangles’ Southern 500 (501.3 Miles) TICKETS Tickets for both races can be purchased by calling (866) 459-7223 or at Kids 17-under are half off for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 and free for the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 in the general admission grandstand.

— Regan Smith doesn’t need a reminder.

He sees the trophy in his house every day.

Smith left Darlington Raceway last season a first-time Sprint Cup Series race winner with a victory in the Southern 500, one of NASCAR’s biggest races.

It was a moment that helped validate his position as a driver and his fledgling Furniture Row Racing team as a contender.

One year later, Smith would love a repeat performance if only to help jump-start his 2012 season.

“I think the reason I dwell on my win last season now is because it serves as a reminder — we want more of them,” Smith said. “It’s a reminder that it’s a lot of fun to win races so let’s do the right things to get back there and win more races.”

It’s been a struggle so far this season for Smith and his team, which is based in Denver, Colo.

Through 10 races they have yet to finish a race in the Top 10. His best performance was 15th at Las Vegas. He has led two laps this season, both in the season-opening Daytona 500.

In last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway — where Smith typically performs well — he never really got the chance as the engine in his No. 78 Chevrolet failed 15 laps into the race.

“I definitely thought after we got that first win we’d be more consistent with top-10s and top-fives and we have not been more consistent,” he said. “It’s hard to say you’re surprised you haven’t won again because the series is so tough.

“There are guys on winless streaks who run up front every week and just haven’t quite put it all together for that one day. So, I’m not surprised I haven’t won again yet.

“I may be a little bit disappointed because I thought that victory would propel us a little bit more than it did.”

There were additional bright spots after the win last season. Smith ran eighth in the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte and finished third in the Brickyard 400.

But as Smith pointed out, the consistency didn’t come.

And so far in 2012, even Top-10 finishes are missing.

“I think the first four or five races we were strong, we had speed. We ran out of fuel at Phoenix and had a penalty at California, two races where we were running well,” Smith said. “I thought we were going in the right direction.

“Now, we’ve had some struggles that last few weeks. We’ve got everything we need to win. I think the thing we are lacking is just some overall speed right now. The only way to fix that is with some testing and figuring out different packages.”

Furniture Row has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and gets its engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing.

With two of the three RCR Cup teams off to a slow start as well, all four of the teams have been working to improve.

“Everybody is working hard,” Smith said. “We need to forget about the past, look forward and start to turn things around.”

Another Southern 500 victory Saturday night certainly couldn’t hurt.

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