Kurt Busch’s suspension means opportunity for Regan Smith

Regan Smith, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Regan Smith, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—When the green flag flies for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Regan Smith will be behind the wheel of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, subbing for suspended driver Kurt Busch.

Last-minute relief jobs are nothing new to Smith, who took drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2012 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion. Smith also was an eleventh-hour replacement for Busch’s car owner, Tony Stewart, last year at Watkins Glen, after Stewart was involved in a fatal sprint car accident.

Now Smith takes over the No. 41 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride after Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Friday. The Family Court of the State of Delaware issued an Order of Protection of Abuse against Busch after finding that Busch likely had committed an act of domestic violence against his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll.

But Smith, the winner of the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington, would like nothing better than to get back to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for what he calls “the right reasons,” as in getting hired as a full-time driver.

And Sunday’s Daytona 500 will give him an opportunity to show what he can do at NASCAR’s highest level.

“I would say anytime you have a chance to hop in a race car that you know is fast and know is more than capable of winning races, it’s always an opportunity to showcase talent,” Smith said Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway. “No matter where it is, no matter what the circumstances or situations are, you’ve got to always think that way and you’ve got to always be prepared that way. So, yeah, I think we have a shot to go out and win this race on Sunday.

“I absolutely think we do, and I’m going to go out and do everything I can to make that happen. And if that helps maybe get me to a situation where we can sit here and talk about these things and have it be strictly because somebody hired me to drive their car, then that’s the goal to go prove to people that I need to be doing that on a full time basis for the right reasons.”

Smith said his wife Megan’s status as an expectant mother, due in two weeks, won’t keep him from racing this weekend.

“My wife and I have a very good relationship, obviously–we’re having a kid,” Smith quipped. “We’ve had those discussions prior to this even happening about if it were to happen for one of the XFINITY races, and our same mentality for the XFINITY races is going to carry over to Sunday. Obviously, it’s a big opportunity for me to be able to race that car.

“I’ve asked her to keep her legs crossed as long as she can if she does go into labor, and we’ll do what we can to make sure I get back as quick as I can if that happens. But I will race both races this weekend.”

SHORT OUTING
Smith’s first race of the weekend was shorter than intended. On Lap 93 of Saturday afternoon’s Alert Today Florida 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series event, Smith was collected in a 13-car accident in the tri-oval.

Smith’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet barrel-rolled after contact from Daniel Suarez’ No. 18 Toyota, which turned sideways after contact from Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevy.

For Smith, there was no escape from the melee.

“I saw the 18 wrecking and then wrecking again and then wrecking a third time,” Smith said after his release from the infield care center. “There was really nowhere I could go coming off the corner. I was as low as I could get right there. …

“We’ll go on to Atlanta (next Saturday) and fight hard there.”

HERE COMES THE SUN
The warmest weather of the week, more closely approximating conditions drivers will see in Sunday’s Daytona 500, coaxed 35 of 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars out of their garage stalls for Saturday’s final practice.

Denny Hamlin paced the session, running 202.106 mph in the draft. Kasey Kahne was second fastest at 202.025 mph.

Regan Smith practiced the No. 41 Chevrolet he will drive in place of suspended Kurt Busch and posted a fast lap of 193.661 mph (30th fastest overall) in single-car runs. Danica Patrick, who has wrecked three times during Speedweeks, was one of eight drivers who elected not to practice on Saturday.

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