Daytona 500 Brought Mile-High Visibility to Smith, Furniture Row Racing
February 21, 2012
When Regan Smith was repeatedly told after last year's Daytona 500 that he and his Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing team were no longer running under the radar, it was taken as a reassuring compliment.
"It usually takes longer for other people to realize when you're actually making progress," said Smith. "But to hear the positive comments soon after last year's Daytona Speedweeks was a big lift for our entire Furniture Row Racing organization."
Smith finished seventh in the 2011 rendition of the Great American Race and was leading with five laps remaining. The result was not only his first career top-10 finish in a Sprint Cup points race, but also the first top-10 for Furniture Row Racing.
Smith actually started to turn heads a few days before the 500, when he finished second in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race.
"It was no doubt a breakthrough race weekend, which led to a breakthrough season for our single-car team," said Furniture Row Racing's general manager Joe Garone, who has guided the team's NASCAR effort since its 2005 beginning.
The Daytona performance set the pace for Smith and Furniture Row Racing -- both achieving milestones in 2011 – including their first victory, which came in the historic Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The 28-year-old Smith, who grew up in Cato, N.Y., is looking for another catapulting performance in Sunday's 54th Daytona 500, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet.
"We have high expectations for 2012 and truly feel we can get to where we want to be," stated Smith. "The start we had last year in the 500 gave us a huge confidence boost and we'll be looking for the same on Sunday."
But as the field of drivers prepare for the Daytona 500, there's plenty of conjecture swirling in the Daytona International Speedway garage about what kind of race it will be.
Will the two-car tandem racing continue? Or, will the more traditional restrictor-plate pack racing return? And will it be a wreckfest as was the case in Saturday night's Bud Shootout at the 2.5-mile high-speed oval?
"I guess you could say yes, yes and yes," answered Smith. "We'll know more after Thursday's qualifying races. My gut right now says we'll see a combination of the two-car tandem draft and pack racing. Regarding wrecks, I don't think it will be like the Shootout, but as we get closer to the checkered flag there's no telling what could happen. It's going to be exciting, I am pretty sure about that."
Smith will start 18th in Thursday's second Gatorade Duel, a 60-lap, 150-mile race that will determine the starting lineup for the Daytona 500.
"This is going to be one of the most important Duel races of my career," explained Smith. "There is so much unknown right now and hopefully the Duels will give us a better idea of what to expect in the 500."
The 200-lap Daytona 500 will be Smith's fifth appearance in NASCAR's biggest race and his eighth overall in the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway.
"Everything is special about the Daytona 500," noted Smith. "It's the most prestigious race, it's our first event of the season and we're competing in NASCAR's home base at the World Center of Racing. If you can't get pumped for this event, then you better check to see if you have a pulse."