Regan Smith talks about subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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REGAN SMITH, NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Charlotte and Kansas and his future plans.

Regan Smith
Regan Smith

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

TAKE ME THROUGH HOW THIS ALL CAME ABOUT: “The hour-by-hour of this was pretty quick. I found out at seven this morning. I had a text message from Stevie (Letarte, crew chief No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) that said to give him a call ASAP. I did. I was actually just getting up; drinking a cup of coffee, then head to the gym. He basically said ‘Why don’t you head over to the shop, instead of heading to the gym’. So, that is what I did, and obviously found out the rest of the news as it went on.”

DALE, JR. SAID HE FELT COMFORTABLE WITH YOU IN THE CAR, BECAUSE YOU ARE A FRIEND OF HIS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT FILLING IN FOR HIM? “Certainly it is big shoes to fill in for. I think first and foremost, his health and his safety is the priority. Obviously it is not something you want to play with, so whatever it takes to get him back is everybody’s priority right now. Looking toward this weekend, we want to do the same stuff this team does every weekend, and that is go out, and try to get the pole and try to win the race; and do him, and the Junior Nation proud. That is what the goal is.”

TALK ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU PERSONALLY AS YOU CLIMB IN THE BEST CAR YOU HAVE EVER DRIVEN: “It is certainly a good opportunity. I am very fortunate that I am the guy they chose to call. I really appreciate that. It is going to be the best car I have sat in, yes, there is no denying that. I just want to go out and make the most of it. Run all 500 miles and see where we are at when it is all said and done.”

RICK HENDRICK TALKED ABOUT YOU AND HE HAVE HAD CONVERSATIONS BEFORE ANY OF THIS HAPPENED ABOUT MAYBE A NATIONWIDE DEAL, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT ANY OTHER CONVERSATIONS, OTHER THAN THE NO. 88 DEAL? “Going beyond this weekend, and Kansas, I don’t know going forward. If Mr. H said it, usually what Mr. H says is the gospel, so we’ve had some talks. Certainly that would be something that would be really cool for me. But, right now the focus is the AMP Energy Chevy as far forward as we can.”

HOW HARD IS IT TO STEP INTO ANOTHER GUY’S CAR? “Well, I think it is hard given the circumstances. You don’t ever want to get into a car because someone is hurt or sick. That is not a good situation for anybody. But, with that being said, there is going to be an opportunity for somebody, and you want to make the most of that opportunity. As I said, Dale’s safety and getting healthy is the most important thing right now through all of this. This race car has got to be on the race track, and I am glad and honored to be the guy to do it.”

JUST TALK ABOUT THE EXCITEMENT OF THIS OPPORTUNITY: “It’s an exciting opportunity for me. I hate the circumstances surrounding it. Obviously Dale’s safety and getting healthy is the most important two things right now. But, with that said, it is a great opportunity for me to hop in a race car. The past four weeks have been about as up and down as any four weeks of my life, between what was going on with the No. 78 car (Furniture Row Chevrolet). As of yesterday, I was in South Carolina getting fitted for the No. 51 car to hop into the Phoenix Racing Chevy this weekend. This morning at seven o’clock I was at Hendrick Motorsports getting ready to hop in the No. 88 this weekend. It’s been a lot going on, and just want to do these guys proud and run as good as we can this weekend with this car. The same goals that this team has every weekend. We want to go out there, and try to win the pole and try to win the race, and try to be the fastest car in every practice. That’s not going to change. What they do every weekend, and that’s not going to change this weekend.”

HOW DIFFERENT IS IT HOPPING FROM ONE CAR TO ANOTHER? “I don’t know. I’ll you in about an hour when I get in it. (Smiles) I’ll tell you that there’s going to be a different feel. There are going to be different things with the seat; maybe little stuff here and there. Every car is different inside. There’s going to be some differences. But, I’ll adjust accordingly, and by Saturday we’ll be fine. We haven’t practiced yet, so I’ll be able to tell you after practice. We just fitted a seat up this morning, that is about it.”

WHAT IS THIS WHOLE PROCESS BEEN LIKE? HAS IT BEEN KIND OF A WHIRLWIND? “Yes, it all happened quick. I got a text message at 7:00 a.m. this morning, and by 7:30 I was in car on my way over to the shop to sit in some cars, and see what we had to do from a seat standpoint, and get the seats ready to go. There were a lot of things that had to happen quick, and obviously with an organization like Hendrick, it happens quick. Those guys are professionals at everything they do across the board.”

HOW OVERWHELMING IS IT TO STEP IN A CAR LIKE THE NO. 88 WITH THE MEDIA ATTENTION, ETC.? “It hasn’t been to be honest with you. This is the first thing I’ve had to do. As I said, my job is to drive the race car, and go as fast as I can. There is a lot of other stuff that is more concerning than me being in a race car, and that is obviously Dale’s health and all of that. Outside that, I’m going to go get in my suit, and I’m going to go race like I would any other weekend, and do the same stuff I would do every weekend.”

DO YOU EXPECT TO BE TREATED LIKE THE MOST POPULAR DRIVER IN NASCAR FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS? “(CHUCKLES) I wouldn’t expect that. I do know that Dale has a huge following. The Junior Nation is a big group of people. I have seen the good side of them before. I’ve seen the bad side of them. I’m glad to be on their good side for a couple of weeks anyway.”

HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH DALE? HAS HE OFFERED ANY ADVICE? “I haven’t spoken with him, not yet. I’m sure that will come here, in the next day or so. But, I’m sure he’s been pretty busy with stuff he’s got going on.”

ARE YOU MORE NERVOUS OR EXCITED? “I’m more excited for it. Every opportunity in a race car is another opportunity. To tell you there is pressure; every time you sit in a race car in this garage, there is pressure. It doesn’t matter what car it is. Every driver in the garage feels the same amount of pressure every week. That is what makes us all strive to be better. I’m going to put the same pressure on myself this week that I did last week, that I did the week before. That I did two years ago, and we’ll see how things go.”

DO YOU THINK YOU WILL HAVE ENOUGH TIME IN THE CAR BEFORE THE RACE? “Yes, I think I will. We’ll go out and run some laps in race trim to start off with, and get acclimated with the car. Understand where all the switches are, things like that inside the car. After that, we’ll go to qualifying trim, and get ready to qualify. It should be, I don’t know, I think we have an hour-and-a-half today, and that should be more than enough.”

HAVE YOU TAKEN SOME HITS IN YOUR CAREER? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN CLOSE TO THE SITUATION WITH DALE JR.? “I couldn’t even touch that subject. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ve had a concussion in my lifetime. I don’t know what one hit might have been like that, or anything like that. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know all the symptoms of what one has. So, I can’t really answer that.”

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DALE? THIS MORNING HE SAID YOU WERE PRETTY GOOD FRIENDS: “We haven’t talked today about it. It all happened quick. I’ve been running around trying to get a lot of things taken care of. I had personally had gear spread through different areas in this garage area, so I had to get my stuff taken care of. I’m sure we’ll talk tonight or tomorrow. I have a good relationship with him. I enjoy racing with Dale on the race track. Off the race track, he’s always been really good to me. I know his sister (Kelley) is heavily involved with things my Mom does as well and have always had a good relationship. I hate that there is a circumstance that requires somebody to get in his race car, because I know how tough that is as a driver. But, with that being said, I’m glad I am the guy who gets to do that. We are going to do everything we can to make him proud this weekend.”

ARE YOU IN THE NO. 88 NEXT WEEK TOO? “As far as I know, yes.”

SO YOU KNEW NOTHING ABOUT THIS UNTIL 7:00 A.M. TODAY? “I knew nothing about it. Woke up, and I had a text that had just come through. I got up, and I was making coffee and I read the text, because I didn’t recognize the number, I didn’t have his (Steve Letarte) number punched in my phone that said ‘Hey this is Steve Letarte, give me a call ASAP’. I didn’t think much about it, until I saw the ASAP part, I picked up the phone and called him and said ‘Hey, what’s going on’. He informed me of everything that was taking place. I took a shower, hopped in my car and headed for the shop. Got fitted for the seats, finding out different things that we had to do. The guys have been working hard over there to get the seats ready. I think they put a completely different seat in the car already. I fit in one of the other driver’s seats better than I did Dale’s, so they put that in there and got that all taken care of.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Interviews
Tags charlotte, chevrolet, earnhardt, hendrick, regan smith