Smith Busy with Chase of His Own While the majority of the NASCAR world zones in on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Inc. rookie driver Regan Smith is locked in on his own 'chase.' Smith, who has led the Raybestos Rookie of the Year...
Smith Busy with Chase of His Own
While the majority of the NASCAR world zones in on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Inc. rookie driver Regan Smith is locked in on his own 'chase.' Smith, who has led the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Sprint Cup Standings for the past 10 weeks, rolls into Dover International Speedway this weekend with a 186-183 lead over fellow rookie Sam Hornish Jr.
Smith at Dover
Dover is known as the Monster Mile for a reason, but Smith was able to keep the Monster at bay with a solid 21st-place finish at the track in June in his only Sprint Cup start at the 1-mile track. Smith has six starts at Dover in the Nationwide Series, with an average finish of 23.2. He finished 16th there in his Dover debut in 2003 -- his best finish in seven NASCAR races at the track.
Rookie of the Race Award
Smith has won the Rookie of the Race Award in 10 of his 25 starts this season and he will look to do so again this weekend, while adding to his lead over his fellow rookie competitors.
Hitting the Marks
One of the prime objectives of any rookie driver is to turns as many laps as possible during their rookie season. Track time is essential, and Smith has done an outstanding job of doing just that, completing 99.2 percent (7531 or 7590) of his attempted laps in 2008.
Smith has continued to improve on his performance throughout the season. The rookie posted a 33.2 average finish during the first five races of 2008, but has picked up to a 25th-place average finish during the past five races.
Getting Better Each Time
Over the course of the season, Smith has made marked improvement during his second visit to the tracks. In fact, Smith has made a net gain of 28 positions during his return to the seven tracks that NASCAR has raced at twice thus far in 2008. On average, Smith has picked up four positions each time he returns to a track in 2008. His biggest jumps have come at Bristol, where he improved from 26th in the spring to 14th in the fall and Daytona where he improved from 37th to 24th. Seven of the nine remaining tracks on the schedule for 2008, are return visits.
Stillman Comes Full Circle
Ironically, crew chief Dan Stillman made his debut with the No. 01 team earlier his year in June at the Dover race. Stillman, helped lead Smith and the team to a 21st--place finish that day. Smith has posted an average finish of 26.6 in 13 races under the guidance of Stillman.
Chassis Number: The team will run Chassis No. 36 at Dover this weekend. No. 36 was last used in Smith's 14th-place finish last month.
This will be your second start at Dover in the Cup car and your seventh overall. How do you like the Monster Mile and what is the key for you to get around it?
"Dover is probably one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. It's basically a big Bristol which is one of my other favorites. It's fast and things can really happen in a hurry. The car needs to be good and free, but not to the point that you're chattering the rear tires out from under it."
What is your team's goal for this weekend at Dover?
"Our goals are to continue to improve on the past few weeks. Dover is a good track for myself and DEI as a whole, so we want to go and do everything in our power to get that first top ten. We also need to focus on getting the Raybestos Rookie award for the final nine weeks of the season. That award is not only important to me, but the company as a whole. "
You have led the Raybestos Rookie of the year points for the past 10 weeks. What do you think is the key to holding on to that lead?
"The main thing with the rookie points is to just keep winning rookie of the race awards. There isn't any other way for me to continue gaining points other than being the top rookie and getting some top tens. I feel like were the strongest rookie team out there each week and there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to accomplish that."
You have shown a lot of improvement each time you go back to a track this season. With seven of the nine remaining tracks return events, are you excited about going back with some more experience under you belt?
"Very much so. Any time that you get to go back to a track that you've been to before or raced at you have a great deal more confidence as soon as you unload. Looking at the schedule there is going to be probably three races that were really going to need to improve greatly on our performance from earlier, and the other six we just need a little and we will be competing for top 15 and top-10 finishes."
Has this Sprint Cup rookie year been more of a challenge than you expected or pretty much what you thought?
"I would say this year has definitely been more of a challenge than I was expecting. I thought after the season I was having last year in the Nationwide series that things would come much more easily to me this year. Some of the struggles have been things we could have controlled better from the start of the season, and some have been my learning curve but as a whole I have been very humbled this year."
What has been the biggest lesson for you this season?
There's been a couple of them. One is just how incredibly tough this series really is. There are so many great drivers who are all at the top of their game each week, that just getting top 15s can be difficult. Every driver out there can win in any other series in the world if they were in it, and that says a lot for the competition level.
"The other has been the importance of having great people surrounding you. We went through a lot of turnover with my team at the beginning of the season and it seems like now that we have capped that off and got some stability in the crew chief position with Dan Stillman, that our performance has begun to reflect that. We're not by any means happy with 20th-place finishes, but there was a point at the beginning of the season we would have done back flips for those results. Now we are wanting more each week, and pushing each other harder."