JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith (pictured) is currently in an entertaining battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, which continues this weekend at Watkins Glen International. He and Sam Hornish Jr. are tied for second in the NNS standings, 14 points behind Austin Dillon, who has recently ascended to the top spot on the table.
Nonetheless, Smith’s boss – Dale Earnhardt Jr. – wouldn’t mind seeing him be the next substitute driver for Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet while the three-time Sprint Cup champion recuperates from a broken leg.
“I’d be the first to put Regan’s name in the hat for that kind of opportunity,” Earnhardt said on Friday at the Glen. “I understand that we are racing for a championship and I think that could actually help Regan understand. 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.
In addition to helping him competition-wise, Earnhardt also believes it could be an chance for Smith to get on the proverbial radar amongst Sprint Cup owners that may be hunting for a new driver.
“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 side of the deal,” he said. “That would be good for him.”
Smith has plenty of experience on the Cup side, with one win (Darlington, 2011) over 171 starts in the last seven seasons.
He told NASCAR.com’s Holly Cain that he’s had no talks with Stewart-Haas Racing, but was still grateful for Earnhardt putting in a good word for him – although he also noted that he’d prefer to earn a chance because of merit, not injury to a fellow competitor.
“Certainly, I appreciate Dale saying that, you know, that means a lot to me and you know, it’s a situation where I think any driver would relish that opportunity,” Smith said to Cain.
“It’s just unfortunate under the circumstances…None of us ever wish to get an opportunity because our competitors have an issue or get injured, and you know, first and foremost, we’re thinking about Tony and him getting better as soon as he can and his safety and health.”