WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.–Even though his JR Motorsports driver is involved in a heated battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered ringing endorsement for Regan Smith as a substitute driver in the No. 14 Sprint Cup car of injured Tony Stewart.
“I’d be the first to put Regan’s name in the hat for that kind of opportunity,” Earnhardt said Friday at Watkins Glen International. “I understand that we are racing for a championship and I think that could actually help Regan.”
Stewart broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in a sprint car accident Monday night in Iowa. Max Papis is driving the No. 14 Chevrolet SS at the Glen, but beyond that, Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t named a substitute driver or drivers for what is expected to be an extended absence for the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Earnhardt thinks additional seat time in the Cup car might work to Smith’s benefit.
“It would be a challenge, but I think it could help him in some ways and be an advantage to him maybe to have that extra track time and just be able to have some other ideas in his head about what can improve his car,” Earnhardt said.
“I would be for that, and it would also give him an opportunity to showcase himself and give himself possibly a chance to get some interest on the Cup side as far as ownership goes and get some guys maybe wanting to put him back in the car full time on this (Cup) side of the deal. That would be good for him.”
Logistically, the NASCAR schedule makes it difficult for any driver in the Nationwide Series–particularly those in contention for the championship–to fill in for Stewart next weekend at Michigan. The Nationwide Series races at Mid-Ohio, and the schedules between MIS and the Lexington, Ohio track don’t mesh comfortably.
“The problem we are faced with next week is, if you look at the schedules and you lay out the Nationwide schedule at Mid-Ohio and us in Michigan, they don’t match up very well,” said Greg Zipadelli, director of competition at Stewart-Haas. “Somebody would do two half-assed jobs or we can try and find somebody that is out of the norm and put them in the car and try to go to Michigan and do the best we can.
“Then hopefully maybe Bristol we could pick up with one person that may be able to do the rest of it, and obviously it would be a Nationwide driver.”
Smith, tied for second in the NNS standings and 14 points out of the lead held by Austin Dillon, would be a logical choice. He’s already a Chevrolet driver, and both Stewart-Haas and Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports have affiliations with Hendrick Motorsports.
OK BY ME, SMITH SAYS
Regan Smith didn’t want to sound like an ambulance chaser, and he wanted to make sure reporters understood that any discussion of a possible ride in Tony Stewart’s No. 14 car was purely hypothetical at this point.
But Smith acknowledged that a quality ride like Stewart’s car is an intriguing prospect. After losing his Cup job at Furniture Row Racing to Kurt Busch last year, Smith drove two races in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was sidelined during the 2012 Chase because of a concussion sustained at Talladega.
“It’s a situation where I think any driver would relish that opportunity,” Smith said of the prospect of subbing for Stewart. “It’s just unfortunate under the circumstances. I don’t think any of us–and, unfortunately, I had experience with this last year–none of us ever wish to get an opportunity because our competitors have an issue or get injured.
“First and foremost, we’re thinking about Tony and him getting better as soon as he can and his safety and health. But, outside of that, it’s going to be a great opportunity for somebody to hop into a fast race car and get a chance to showcase themselves. I certainly would be open to the possibilities of that.”
NEW TV DEAL FOR IMSA
Thanks to a multimedia rights deal between FOX Sports and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the recently formed United SportsCar Racing will have a home on television through the 2018 season.
United SportsCar Racing is the result of a merger, announced in September 2012, between the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. IMSA sanctions the new organization and the agreement with FOX Sports also includes coverage of IMSA’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge for five years.
The new agreement, announced Friday, follows news of an extension and expansion of the broadcast agreement between FOX Sports and NASCAR that will provide coverage on FOX of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series through 2024.
“By partnering with FOX Sports for the next five years, United SportsCar Racing, Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and their teams, tracks, drivers and sponsors are positioned for strong exposure, while our existing fans can expect top-notch presentation, promotion and marketing,” said Ed Bennett, CEO of IMSA.
Max Papis was 27th fastest in Friday’s first Sprint Cup practice–best among the three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. Accordingly, he will qualify in Group 3 Saturday under NASCAR’s road-course format for time trials… Martin Truex Jr., hoping for the first road course sweep in Cup racing since Kyle Busch won at Sonoma and Watkins Glen in 2008, paced the first practice session at 127.238 mph. He will lead the final Group (No. 8) in Saturday qualifying that includes defending winner Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears… Edwards was quickest in the second Cup practice session at 128.397 mph. Montoya holds the Cup qualifying at the track at 127.020 mph, set last year.