Regan Smith, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed his outlook for this weekend’s race, his 2012 season to date, last year’s victory at Darlington and more.
TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR’S WIN AND WHAT IT MEANS TO COME BACK TO DARLINGTON AND DEFEND YOUR TITLE: “I was an extremely happy guy the last time I was in here. I remember this seat pretty well it was in the same spot I think. That win meant the world to me. It was certainly a pretty special place to get a first win, here at Darlington. The way that we did it with the old tires and things like that, this is a track that I have always enjoyed racing at right from the first time I came here. I still remember the first time I came here, standing over in turn two. At the time the grandstands with the roof were still sitting over there and I remember thinking ‘man this is old school here, this place has got a lot of history’. I never anticipated that we would get our first win with Furniture Row Racing or myself here, but couldn’t have picked a better place really. It made it extra special to do it here.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE WIN LAST YEAR, JUST YOUR THOUGHTS, WHAT THOSE FINAL LAPS WERE LIKE, YOUR EMOTIONS? “The final laps I was really calm for whatever reason. Normally, I’m a little bit more of an up-tight person, a little wound-up when it comes to being in the race car and I was super calm. I think the main reason I was so calm was that after everybody pitted and we stayed out and got the lead, I thought we were racing for second or third. I just assumed that the guys that got the tires, at least a couple of them, would get up there to us. I just said ‘well if we get a good restart we will get second or third’ which is better than where we would have been. I think we were going to probably finish fifth or sixth otherwise, had that caution not come out, the way the way the field was strung out at the time. I was perfectly calm on the radio. It didn’t cross my mind until probably the white flag that we had a shot at winning it and had to have a good last lap basically at that point. Hell, I almost threw it away off of turn two. I would have looked like a fool if I had done that. It probably would have been highlights for the wrong reasons at that point. It was definitely a momentum booster for our team. We really needed that at the time last year as we need something right now. We have been struggling this year for about the past four weeks now, five weeks. We started the year off good we thought we were going to be in good shape and just kind of hit a wall and have not progressed at all. We could use another good night like that here this weekend. Definitely last year helped give us a bump of momentum, a little bit of a boost and helped the month of May go a little smoother.”
DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU GUYS HAVE HIT A WALL RIGHT NOW? “I think we have some ideas. We are working on a lot of stuff. It’s been a situation where we have just got behind, as to why we have hit this wall a little bit right now. We’ve got to keep working on our stuff and making it better, coming up with new ideas. We have a great relationship with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and a lot of times when we are struggling we can lean on them and help make our stuff better. Unfortunately, right now they are probably not quite as quick as they would like to be either at the moment. So, it’s tougher for us to lean on them like we normally would. Even our qualifying has been off this year. Last year it seemed like we could qualify, even if we were having a bad weekend we could at least lay a lap down. That would help out at the start of the race because as these things go 150 green-flag laps at the start, if you start 30th or even 25th you are in trouble really quick the way that it strings out. We’ve got a few different areas that we are focused on working on and overall we need more speed.”
YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO GO CHECK OUT YOUR PARKING SPOT HERE WITH YOUR NAME ON IT AS SOON AS YOU GOT HERE. HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO DO THAT YET? WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU SEEING YOUR NAME? “I haven’t done it yet actually. I got here a little bit later than I thought I would last night. I rode down with somebody else. I haven’t had a chance to go over there. I’m definitely going to at some point. I remember some of the first times I was coming here. I saw those and I just assumed it was reserved for past champions or something like that. I didn’t realize at the time that it was for past race winners. I will be interested to get over there and check that out. It’s kind of quirky, but for me that was one of the earliest memories I had of coming to Darlington was seeing those names up there and wondering why they were there.”
SOME DRIVERS HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE PAVEMENT HERE AND HOW MAYBE THE GRIP LEVEL MIGHT BE GOING AWAY A LITTLE BIT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT IS LIKE OUT THERE NOW COMPARED TO THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? ARE YOU SEEING ANY EROSION IN THIS TRACK SURFACE? “I think it is definitely slowly getting back to where it was before they repaved it. From a stand point of how worn out it is. It will take years. I don’t know how many years exactly it has been since the repave it’s got to be what ’07 or ’08 maybe since the repave? We are only on the fifth year on this asphalt, sixth year maybe give or take, I’m not sure the exact numbers and it takes time. I would say by year 10 we will be back to good old Darlington where it just chews the tires apart, the way the summers and the sand and stuff is down here. Even now, the first year we came you could have run the same set of tires for the whole race. Now, you are having to think about it and having to say ‘okay it’s going to be quicker with tires, but what is the risk/reward to pitting.’ That was the situation we found last year. I know we all enjoy race tracks where the tires wear out and where strategy plays out from that stand point where if you run hard on your tires for the first 10 laps you might pay for it for the next 20 or vice versa. That as drivers I think that is what 90 percent of us look for in a tire, in a race track, in a total combination, total package. It will be just like that very soon if it isn’t already this time. Looking at it as we were leaving the infield this morning for some stuff, it has lightened up considerably since last year even.”
HOW MUCH OF A MENTAL STRAIN WITHIN THE TEAM WHEN YOU STRUGGLE LIKE THAT? HOW DO YOU GUYS NOT LET THAT AFFECT YOUR PERFORMANCE? “I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a mental strain. We all want to do well. We are racers because we are passionate about racing, we want to be upfront, we want to win and we want to compete. So there is always a certain mental aspect if you are going through a struggle. I think it is how you handle that mental aspect as a team that really separates you and says, okay this is a team that is strong and is built for the long haul or this is a team that is going to crumble and people are going to start pointing fingers. We have worked really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen within our situation. The reality is we have had some bad weeks, but at the same time we go to Talladega, which we felt like would have been a momentum builder for us and blow an engine on lap 16 or whatever it was. It’s just one hit after another. I remember saying after Richmond, ‘okay well at least we have hit rock bottom here and it’s not going to get any worse, it has to get better from this point on.’ I will never say that again in my racing career because we got to Talladega and it got worse. It’s a mental strain but you have to stick together too.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU DRAW ON LAST YEAR’S WIN AS FAR AS THINGS LIKE STRATEGY AND THINGS LIKE THAT? “Well I think it will be tougher to draw on strategy because I think given that situation at the end of the race more people will probably stay out and realize that the clean air was pretty important. The strategy is kind of going to be ever evolving. Each race plays out its own way. We will have to see what course this one takes for strategy. If you look at this year as a whole, there has been a lot more green flag racing and that is going to change the strategy considerably in its own right. From that stand point we don’t take a ton. This is a new year, it’s a new race. But, from a set-up stand point at least we know we have a set-up that was strong last year here. That if maybe some of the newer stuff we are trying or something we are playing with doesn’t work we can fall back on it and still have a fast race car.”