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2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
Owner: Barney Visser/Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Pete Rondeau
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2012
Best points finish: 28th (2010)
Hometown: Cato, N.Y.
Born: September 23, 1983
Remember in the movie Cars, when old Doc Hudson tells Lightning McQueen that sometimes you need to slow down to go fast? It’s kind of like that for Regan Smith. After three completely lackluster seasons for Furniture Row Racing, the team took one giant step back in 2009, running just half the schedule while building for 2010 and beyond.
It worked like a charm. In his second season with FRR, Smith, just 27 years old, showed a tremendous amount of talent and poise. Finishing the year with three straight top-10 starts and just 10 races outside the top 30, he equaled as many lead lap finishes in one year (16) as the team collected in the previous five. Smith, who gained some notoriety for nearly winning at Talladega as a rookie in 2008 (he crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR took the win on a yellow line violation), is one of the sport’s underrated drivers, proving he can race with the best in the game.
Now, he needs to prove that he can consistently take this team to the next level. There needs to be top-10 finishes, not just the occasional top 15s, if FRR is to achieve its goal of sneaking inside the top 20 in points. To that end, the team switched from in-house to Richard Childress Racing chassis, and will also run Earnhardt-Childress engines this year, switching from Hendrick power. Smith was given a contract extension through 2012, which gives the team several years of stability to look forward to — something they lacked before his tenure.
There will be challenges. FRR is essentially self-sponsored, and while the team established a marketing department this offseason, that means there isn’t the cash flow that the multi-car giants have. Pete Rondeau, who took the crew chief job last fall, his first since an awkward stint as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s head wrench in 2005, brings experience, but not a lot of wins to the pit box. The team’s Denver, Colo., location is also a hindrance, being a half-continent away from the racing hub of Charlotte. The ties to RCR are great, but it’s hard for Childress to offer much assistance to a team that builds its cars 1,500 miles away.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the relative upward trend of an organization that sacrificed in the short-term in order to stick around for the long haul. Now, it’s time to see just how fast it can go.
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
Smith turned heads with some respectable late-season showings. “They’re aligned with (Richard) Childress now,” says a crew chief. “That’s got a lot to do with the improvement.”
Another says, “I think Regan’s put himself back on the map. He’s done a good, solid job over there.”
A third crew chief says, “That team finished, what, 29th in owner points (Smith was 28th in driver points)? That may not seem like much, but it’s a hell of an accomplishment for that team. Smith’s a good little driver, definitely underrated.”
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 0
Laps Led: 4
Laps Completed: 10,208
Lead Lap Finishes: 16
Bonus Points: 10
Races Led: 2
Average Start: 24.6
Average Finish: 25.5
After First 26 Races: 30th
Final Points Standing: 28th
Driver Rating: 58.5 (29th)