Due to a car handling issue coupled with a lack of early cautions in the 500-lap race on Martinsville’s 0.526-mile paperclip-shaped oval, Smith, who qualified 17th, fell two laps down before the halfway mark and was stuck in the low- to mid-20s in track position. Martinsville is a narrow track with very tight curves, which makes passing and improving track position difficult.
”Once we got the Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet working better, we were passing lead-lap cars, but had nothing to show for it in track position,” said Smith. “When you’re two laps down that’s a major handicap. But we came back, thanks to great pit strategy by our crew chief Pete Rondeau and fast pit stops by our over-the-wall crew.”
A decision by Rondeau not to pit following a caution on Lap 315 resulted in Smith going from two to one lap down. ”That gave us the opportunity to pass some cars for track position — a great call by Pete,” explained Smith.
As Smith was running in the teens and conserving fuel to reach the checkered flag a caution came out with two laps remaining following a wreck involving then-race leaders Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Clint Boyer, and eventual winner Ryan Newman. Rondeau was tempted to have Smith stay out, “but then listened to his gut and called me in for fuel and fresh tires,” noted Smith. “That was a tough call at the time, but it turned out to be the right one since the race was extended an extra 15 laps with two green-white-checkered restarts. We always want better than 16th, but considering how we started and where we were at for a long time I consider it a respectable result.” Only 12 cars finished on the lead lap.
Rondeau said he was also pleased with how the team rallied in the end. “I was really proud of our pit crew for the excellent job they did,” he said. “And Regan stayed patient and made a nice charge in the end. A great team effort. Sometimes you’re put in a position to make a difficult call and you just hope it works out. It did and I am happy it helped in our comeback.”
The result was Smith’s fourth top-20 finish in the Sprint Cup series first six races. He gained one position to 18th in the driver point standings. Smith is actually tied with Juan Pablo Montoya for 17th, but Montoya gets the tiebreaker nod. The race winner was Ryan Newman. Rounding out the top-10 in order were: AJ Allmendinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer.
CSX Transportation’s associate sponsorship program with Furniture Row Racing and Regan Smith is a major part of the railroad’s “Play It Safe Around Railroad Tracks” public safety campaign. At Martinsville, which has a busy Class I secondary line running through the speedway grounds, CSX handed out thousands of “I Brake For Trains” bumper stickers identical to the one displayed on the rear of the no. 78 Chevrolet Impala racecar. Regan Smith, an enthusiastic and articulate spokesperson for CSX, talked up railroad grade crossing safety during his numerous media interviews prior to the race.
Railway Age, with the support of sponsor PTMW Inc., will soon be launching a special website dedicated to Regan Smith’s exploits in the no. 78 Furniture Row Racing/CSX Play It Safe Chevrolet and the railroad’s public safety and corporate citizenship initiatives. The next CSX-sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup race is the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where Smith is the defending champion. Stay tuned to this website!