Darlington Raceway 500
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference at Darlington Raceway
An interview with Regan Smith, Pete Rondeau and Joe Garone
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right into our post-race winning team. We have a first-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Regan Smith. He's joined by team general manager Joe Garone and crew chief Pete Rondeau. With the win tonight, he also qualifies for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race. Congratulations to that.
KERRY THARP: Great win out there tonight. Talk about it.
REGAN SMITH: We did think about the All-Star Race after the race on the cool-down lap saying, I can't believe we just won this race. I think I said something about the All-Star Race. I can't remember.
It was a good race for us. I'm happy to be in here and not be in here under qualifying terms because that's usually when I get to see anybody in here. First and foremost, this is a pleasant change for me.
The car was good all night. I don't think we made any big adjustments. There was a couple points where I was winding pretty hardcore. That's typical for me anywhere. Pete and the guys made some good calls. We got up to six at one point the old-fashioned way: driving up there. We had good pit stops. Those guys did a great job. The opportunity presented itself.
Pete and I were talking about it. The decision is his a hundred percent. The way our stuff works is whatever he tells me to do, I do. I did mention, I said, Man, I think this thing would be good with clean air. That's all he needed to hear to make the call to stay out. That won the race for us right there.
We were fortunate on the last restart. I spun the tires on the second-to-last restart. The tires hooked up good. When we cleared Carl going into one, I thought, That's good, at least we'll finish second in this thing, I won't have to worry about any of the other guys on fresh tire. When he didn't catch me at the white flag and I still had a car length gap at the white flag, I thought, I'm going to run another qualifying lap here, we might have a chance at this thing.
I hit the fence at turn two. How hard was it? I thought I hit it hard, anyways. Never checked it up. Sailed off into three. I had been on the bottom all night long. My game plan was to stick with the bottom. I figured if he passes me with his tires on the outside, that's all right. I sailed off in there, drove it deeper than I wanted to. I got tight in the middle. I saw he drove off pretty deep, which I expected him to do. He got tight at the same time. I don't know if the air off my car got him or what. He wasn't able to make the run and we won the Southern 500. That's pretty awesome.
He wasn't able to make the run and we won the Southern 500. That's pretty awesome.
KERRY THARP: Pete, talk about the decision and stay out there towards the end of the race.
PETE RONDEAU: It's one of them things you think about a lot, but then it's a split-second decision. Sometimes you make out well with it, sometimes you don't. I was leaning one way, as it was. I said, What the heck, we'll ask Regan where he's headed. He said we were both on the same page. All right, let's go for it. He's the one driving it. He wants some clean air, we'll give him some clean air. He willed it.
He did a great job all night right from the start. We started off, made a few adjustments. We'll tell him now we ended up right where we were at the start of the race.
REGAN SMITH: That's how it usually works (laughter).
KERRY THARP: Joe, talk about how meaningful this win is tonight, Colorado race team. Talk about what it means not only for your organization but for other organizations that might be similar to what you have.
JOE GARONE: Well, for our organization, obviously it means everything. We've been six years building this team and literally started from scratch. I can tell you a lot of people, and I can't say I wasn't with them when Barney Visser wanted it run out of Colorado, that we might just be crazy. It's been a long road.
After the second or third year we started realizing we can compete in Cup, we can do a good job, get ourselves in a position to win races. Tonight just solidifies all that hard work and shows the racing community that you can win races outside of the normal North Carolina area.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for Joe, Pete or Regan.
Q. Regan, talk about your emotions as you took the checkered flag and the cool-down lap.
REGAN SMITH: There were a lot of emotions. I was trying to get them all out at that point so I didn't show it too much on TV there. But I couldn't help it. It's Mother's Day weekend. My mom is not here. She's in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She left Thursday, about the same time I left to come down here, to help out with the recovery efforts and save some animals down there. She's down there doing that. She's always been there for all my wins, all my races, everything. She doesn't miss too many of them. To not have her here, that got me choked up a little. It is now, too.
Outside of that, there's been so many ups and downs for my career, so many points where you think, Man, what am I doing? What's the next move? I think it's obvious now the best thing that happened to me was the end of the '08 season I didn't have a drive, I didn't have a ride, got hooked up with Barney and Joe and Furniture Row Racing. There's a lot of times the guys could have got down on me last year, this year, some races this year, but everybody stuck behind me and has given me the support that I needed as a driver to keep my head on straight.
I'll be honest with you. When I walked to the car today, I literally thought we could win the race. I think that every week when we walk to the car. The difference was this week, we did.
It's very special. I couldn't think of a better way to do it with the things I've been through with a team out of Colorado. I'm pretty close to having a house bought out there. Solidifies my roots out there a little more.
Man, it's very special.
I couldn't think of a better way to do it with the things I've been through with a team out of Colorado.
Q. Regan, when is the last time you won anything? I know this is your first NASCAR win.
REGAN SMITH: It's been a while (laughter).
Q. What series was it in? And can you further describe this journey in more detail, what a driver goes through when they're trying? It's like you were almost hitting your head against the wall. It's a single-car operation, at times a part-time deal.
REGAN SMITH: Yeah, certainly. Last major win I had was '08, a late model race up in Canada, the IWK 250, one of the bigger races they run. I made a comment earlier, this isn't a knock on Talladega at all, but I would trade all of them for one win in the Southern 500. This is so special. We were looking at the names and faces on the trophy. You think about it. My face is going to be right there next to these guys and it's going to be there forever. You can't change that. It certainly means a lot to me.
As for the highs and lows, you know, the year, '08, my rookie season, even though we won the Rookie-of-the-Year deal, it wasn't the type of year you want to have by any means. I've run, I don't know, a hundred-some races, you guys probably know better than I do, and haven't had a top five. Recently got my first top 10. To just kind of come out and end up with a win, it's a good way to get your first top five, I suppose.
We know we've got fast racecars and we felt like we had fast racecars and we put it together tonight basically. There was a lot of stuff we said we had to put together. The little stuff was good. Pit stops were good, adjustments were good, I was getting on and off pit road good. There were so many little things that can hamper a race.
Me personally, I understand that stuff better. Hopefully it helps us down the road.
The low point, you know, I can't say there's a low point. There's been a lot of times when I think, What if I don't get to race in another Cup race again? As a driver, you never know when your last race is going to be.
Last year I was thinking, Maybe they're going to fire me, I hope not. But who knows what is going to happen. When we had struggles at different points in the season, last year the lowest point was I broke my wrist at Sonoma and raced at Loudon with it broke completely, didn't have it fixed. I got out of the car, it hurt really bad, it was a horrible day. We were so far off the pace. Probably one of the worst races I personally ever have driven.
From that point on, we started rebounding again. Ever since the Chicago race, even though some of the finishes don't show it, we've been running way more competitive. It's just been uphill from there, or downhill, I don't know how you look at it.
Q. (No microphone.)
REGAN SMITH: I have. I didn't get too many words out of her but, I love you, boohoo, lots of tears and crying. She was very excited. If I know her, she's going to enjoy a Bacardi and diet Coke tonight. If it's in a tent, pickup truck, hotel. This is funny. I believe she was staying with Bonnie Allison down there. Don't quote me on that, but I believe that's where she was staying most of the time when she was down there. I'm sure she's celebrating.
Q. In a year where Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, people are going to find this a Cinderella victory. Talk about that coming.
REGAN SMITH: Yeah, no, you know what, I'm fine with that. Ryan grabbed me and said, You're 500-to-1 odds in Vegas. Hopefully somebody made some money tonight (laughter).
I watched Trevor win that race. We had a strong racecar. Quite honestly, I felt like we could have won the 500 just as easily. You're happy for Trevor. It was so cool to see. There's a part of you that thinks, That could have been us. That's a big race. We come to the next biggest race, the Southern 500. You have the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coke 600, and the Brickyard. Those are the four. To come here and beat a guy like Carl Edwards. It's incredible. Cinderella story. Whatever is wrote about it, I'm perfectly fine with it. I don't care, because we still get a trophy.
Q. It's your first win, but not the first time you've taken the checkered flag in Cup. Do you feel this is vindication for what happened at Talladega? Did you feel like you were going to get that back eventually?
REGAN SMITH: You know what, I'll be honest with you, I didn't know if I was ever going to get it back. To get it back at Darlington, absolutely it's vindication. Winning here to me means more to me than that win could have ever meant. With this team, with the hard work, racing out of Colorado, the things that have gone on, everybody said for how long, You can't race outside of Charlotte, the 20-mile radius where all the teams are, you can't do it. We've been doing it every week.
We've been doing it good for a while, but now everybody is going to notice how good we're doing it. I don't think I'll go to bed tonight thinking about Talladega, that's for sure (laughter).
Q. Regan, do you dare allow yourself to think, Chase wild card is on the table now? Do you think that far ahead?
REGAN SMITH: We've been thinking about that for three or four weeks now, since we dug the hole in points, we've had that talk already. We need to take chances like we did tonight and try to sneak some wins out. Our main focus was, Let's try and sneak as many wins as we can and get back in the 20 points. We had a big hole to dig out of. That's going to be our goal. We get another win, get back into the top 20, you could make the Chase and use that system to your advantage.
I think that's something you don't want to be in the position where you have to use that system to your advantage, you just want to be in the top 10. But it's there. Since we've had the bad luck we had at the start of the year, we're going to try and use it.
Q. Joe, have you talked to Barney yet? I want to know what his feeling is. So many times it was, We're going to cut back to this, then go back up. The fact he believed in all you guys. And, Pete, what kind of vindication is this for the guy that was known as Dale Jr.'s other crew chief?
JOE GARONE: I did talk to Barney. Kind of just a quick funny story. Last call, when we decided to stay out, I sent a quick text to him. Normally he's with us. This was just a disclaimer for Pete. I asked him what he would do. He said, Stay out. So I figured if it went bad, I could always say, It was Barney's decision, so Pete was covered (smiling).
This is a big deal for Barney. Not just for Barney, but Furniture Row Companies, which consists of Denver Mattress, Sofa Mart, Bedroom Expressions and Oak Express. For standing behind the team, it's been a long road.
Everyone knows how tough this sport is at the Cup level. They've gone over the highs and the lows and just stuck behind us. Just like Regan was staying about what we've done with him, our owner, Barney, has done with us.
This is just a great time for him, really excited for him and the whole company.
PETE RONDEAU: I don't have any vindication from that few years back. I guess a lot of things go around, some come around. This just came around. I'm Regan Smith's crew chief now, so that part there has gone by.
Of places where I thought I would get my first win, it was probably at the bottom because it's such a tough racetrack.
Q. Regan, where would you have put Darlington on the list of places where you thought you would get your first win?
REGAN SMITH: Well, places where I would like to get my first win, probably near the top, the top two or three for sure. Of places where I thought I would get my first win, it was probably at the bottom because it's such a tough racetrack.
We talked before the race. We had a game plan. It was to keep the right side clean. If it meant racing at 80% until the end of the race, the last 25, 50 laps, whatever it was, that's what we needed to do. And it worked. I kept the right side clean all night long. I kept coming up on cars, I would look at them, see their right side was tore off. That's one we'd be able to get.
The only one that went past me that his right side was obliterated was Kyle Busch, and that's normal for Kyle Busch at this racetrack. He's something else.
But, you know, it's very special. Any win is special. This one is even more special. To get the first one here, I think they were giving me the stats, I think they said there's only been six first-time winners here, and the last one was '88. It's certainly a big deal.
It's like I said earlier, you walk out to the car believing you're going to win the race, but sometimes you think, If we get a top 10, too, that's what we need to survive. I think this is a race we're capable of winning, but let's survive. We survived and we won.
Q. Regan, the research is several years old, but I think it's still valid. Darlington is far beyond any other track in terms of the exclusivity of its winners. The only drivers that have ever won here and not won a number of other races is Larry Frank in '62 and Lake Speed in '88. From understanding this track, you must understand the difficulty of it. I just wondered if you had a chance to think much about that?
REGAN SMITH: I certainly thought about it. I thought about it when I was standing in Victory Lane and reading the trophy. Pete and I, all of us, were sitting there looking at the trophy thinking, Man, this is special. The next step for us as a team is to get that second win. Obviously now we've gotten the taste of how good this feels, you don't ever want to lose that taste.
The next step is to get the second win and keep working hard. I certainly don't want to go anywhere near the list of guys that this is their only win.
We're going to work just as hard to get the next one as we have to get this one, see where that takes us.
Q. Are you still working with Josh at all? He's back at school. Have you been in contact?
REGAN SMITH: I haven't talked to him yet. I haven't gotten to my phone yet to be honest with you. I'm sure there's a lot of text messages I'm going to have to reply to and calls I have to make back. I'm sure Josh is one of them.
I talked to him Friday morning. Every Friday morning before I go on the racetrack, we look over data and talk to him. He's certainly been a big help to me from the standpoint of showing me some stuff that I can do to help out the guys when I'm giving them feedback and information.
It's something that we did last year and it worked last year at the end of the year. We said, Let's stick with it this year. I think it's worked.
There's been a lot of times we pulled out the data sheets and said, That point there is where the car is doing something. It helps Pete and Cole to do the right things to the racecars. I'm sure I'll be talking to him later at some point tonight.
Q. On the last restart, Brad Keselowski said he was pushing you from behind. Did that help your tires hook up to get you out in front of Carl? It seemed like almost the entire night you were pretty well away from the wall going through three and four. Did you specifically set your car up to keep it away from that wall?
REGAN SMITH: We did. I've watched Kyle race here and win here with the right side almost all tore off. I wasn't saying that in a bad way.
Brad did give me a shove, probably three-quarters of the way down the front straightaway. It was just enough of a boost to get me that next little step past Carl to where I could run my line through one and two. If I couldn't have done that, I don't think we could have had the momentum to win. So Brad certainly helped me right there. He kind of preoccupied Carl for that corner and it gave me those two car lengths to stretch it out.
He's a guy that has had his first win, he knows how special it feels, Nationwide races, too. He's had that first Cup win. You really can't describe it. I didn't know how to do the burnouts. I said, I heard you're supposed to crank a lot of front brake to it. I hope it looked okay. I turned around and wanted to salute the fans because they're the reason we do this.
Q. Pete, on the last restart you walked him through on the radio the last two laps. Were you as nervous as he was? What were you thinking?
PETE RONDEAU: I wasn't too nervous with him doing it. Generally you get a guy with the drive and the desire to do this, they get to the front, they're at the front even if they can just sniff it, they're going to drive the wheels off of it. Obviously, you can see that.
I didn't see what he did on the backstretch until I was in Victory Lane. They showed me the tape of him coming off of turn two jacked up, out of shape.
REGAN SMITH: Probably good you didn't see it (laughter).
PETE RONDEAU: No, I didn't get nervous about it. Regan, he knows what he's doing there. We just let him do his thing.
No, I didn't get nervous about it. Regan, he knows what he's doing there.
Q. Joe, there's a lot of people who can celebrate with this victory. You have a pit crew from Stewart Haas Racing, you have chassis from Richard Childress, ECR engines. Is there a better example of true teamwork than this victory tonight? Would you say this would classify as a point that the little guy can still win?
JOE GARONE: Well, I think it does classify that. It is part of the structure for how the little guy does business in Cup. You need partners. You need to have those relationships not just in place, but they have to be good relationships. I can't even express how good our relationship is with RCR, how well they work with us, the information flow between us. It's second to none.
Stewart/Haas, this is new for us this year with them. I can tell you the pit stops were rocky in the beginning. They have flat gone to work with Pete and the guys. Bobby Hutchens is over there all the time sweating bullets when the stops aren't good. I mean, it is good.
Remember when we used to race and run late models on Saturday night, somebody would brake, all the guys would be over there trying to help you, if you went and beat them, you're in a fistfight afterwards. That's what it's like for us. Kind of cool to have that support from other racing teams.
Q. Joe, what are the numbers for the little guy? How many overall employees do you have? How many are based in Colorado? Do you have any based in Charlotte?
JOE GARONE: We have 64 employees total. The pit crew is based in Colorado, so there's six with an additional two that handle some of the logistics. One of them is actually our spotter, Clayton Hughes, so he still lives in North Carolina.
Q. Do you have a satellite thing at all in Charlotte?
JOE GARONE: We don't have a satellite shop. We have a weigh station, I guess you'd call it, which is Clayton's garage at his house. We have a tractor-trailer that does a material run for furniture back to North Carolina every week. What we did is we took the back half of that and built some special containers. That's how we transport our engines and transmissions back and forth. They make a stop at Clayton's. They unload them and load them. That's kind of how we do it.
Q. Regan, as good as this feels right now, you probably are aware of some of the stuff that went on behind you in the aftermath. When the series moves on to Dover and people are talking about Harvick and Busch, Montoya, Newman, is any of that going to diminish what happened here tonight?
REGAN SMITH: I can honestly tell you I don't have an idea what happened behind me, except Carl Edwards didn't pass me, some of the other details on the restart with Brad and stuff like that, I have no clue what happened in the race other than us winning. You know what, if that's what's talked about next week, so be it. I don't care. It's not going to take away from the feeling I've got right now.
Quite honestly, it hasn't sunk in, but I think it will sink in tomorrow. I'm not going to go to bed tonight because there's no chance I'll sleep tonight.
I think the main thing that I'm proud of is what we've done with this team from Colorado. You know, that's the big take-away I get from it. There's been so much work. Like I said, there's been a lot of ups and downs. You certainly have to enjoy the ups when you get them. This is one of them. I'm smart enough to know to enjoy it.
I'm not going to go to bed tonight because there's no chance I'll sleep tonight.
Q. Joe, are you still with Hendrick cars or was that part of the technical support switch-over with Childress?
JOE GARONE: We're with Richard Childress racecars. What we do, to be clear, we buy our chassis from Childress and we bring them -- after they're inspected at the R&D center, we bring them to Colorado, we do all the work. They're assembled out there, the bodies are built out there. We have our own seven-post machine. We do all our testing there, research and development. There's some projects we work together with them on in the wind tunnel where we share engineering services.
Our engine program switched from Hendrick to ECR this year. That put us on the loop to put us on the same platform to understand the racecar from simulation and other areas.
Q. Regan, something else to think about. Aside from Trevor Bayne, you and Jeff Gordon are the only two guys outside the top 10 in points that have a win. If you can get into the top 20, maybe a wildcard into the Chase. Is that going to affect the way you race the rest of the regular season at all?
REGAN SMITH: I don't know that it will affect it. That's our goal anyways before this happened. Absolutely, yeah, we got to get back to the top 20. We're going to have to work hard to do that.
I personally think it's going to take two wins at least to get in based on that system, based on the system the way it is right now. But this is all new to everybody. You never know. It might not take two wins to do that. It might only take one, so we're certainly going to have to focus on that. At the same time we're going to focus on getting another win and taking chances to make that happen. That's all there is to it basically.
I do have to say something else. I saw something that Darrell Waltrip wrote the other day. He picked us and Menard as possible first-time winners this year. Paul is one of my best friends in the garage area. I thought, Well, that was nice of him to pick us. We've been qualifying real good, but not racing that good. Looks like it was a good pick (laughter).
Q. I wanted to ask you about how you got through some of those lower points. I don't know if it's the racer's mentality that you don't know any better and you keep pushing forward or you think this day is going to come. How did you fight through that and get to this point?
REGAN SMITH: I'm not going to lie, there has been, my fiancée over in the corner can vouch for this, there's been some sleepless nights. I've laid there, I can't fall asleep. Might be after a race. I did this wrong, I did that wrong. I'm my own worst critic. I put everything on my shoulders personally. Joe can vouch for that. There's times I'll beat myself down just to pick myself back up, if that sounds right, to feel better about things on Monday or Tuesday after a race.
I can't begin to say how many people have helped me along the way.
I don't know. You're probably right in saying it's a racer's mentality. We all do this because we believe in ourselves and because we believe we can win races, we're good racecar drivers. It's not just when you get to this level. It goes all the way back to when you're racing Saturday nights, you're trying to get an opportunity to get your first Truck start or first Nationwide start. I remember sending out, you know, hundreds of proposals and things like that. I thought, Man, these are cheesy looking. Why am I sending them out? I'm going to send them out anyway.
I can't begin to say how many people have helped me along the way. To sit here and thank them all, you can't do it, you'd miss somebody. They all know who they are. You do that stuff, you get doors slammed in your face. When I was running Pro Cup, family-owned team, back in the day. Money was tight. You fight and feud sometimes with your family because of it, different things like, that you have different ideas than they do maybe about stuff. It's tough. It's like that for so many people out there right now that are racing tonight, Saturday night. It's not just at this level. It goes all the way back to that level.
You just got to keep digging and keep your head down. There's people in this garage area, I can pretty much tell you, you can walk up to them and say, Remember when Regan used to call you when he was 16 or 17 years old? Your secretary would say, Regan Smith is on the phone again. He would say, God, tell him I'm not here. I guess the more doors get slammed in your face, the thicker your skin is, the more tough times you have the thicker your skin is.
Q. (Question regarding the trophy.)
REGAN SMITH: It's going to sit where I have to walk past it every time I get up in the morning. I can tell you that. It's going to go someplace where I don't miss it at all. Maybe on the center of the coffee table in the living room. I don't know for now.
I heard Tony Stewart made the comment, Make sure you take the actual Victory Lane trophy home. I asked them if I could take that one home. We'll see how that works out for me.
KERRY THARP: Regan, Pete, Joe, congratulations. Great win tonight. Terrific story. Wish you all the best the rest of the season.
REGAN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks for staying so late. Really appreciate that. We're really excited, so thank you.