NASCAR: Tough Kentucky track awaits Regan Smith this evening

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Seven races remain in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series season, including tonight’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

And at 18 points behind championship leader and JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, the title is still a distinct possibility for one Regan Smith.

But much like Kyle Busch’s well-documented troubles at Kansas Speedway in Sprint Cup, Smith has a similarly rocky relationship with Kentucky on the Nationwide side.

As we mentioned yesterday, Smith has never finished higher than 12th (September 2013) in eight career Nationwide starts at the 1.5-mile oval between Cincinnati and Louisville. His average finish there: An anemic 26th.

Smith finished 28th in the Nationwide Series’ visit to Kentucky this past June after getting caught in a late-race crash. If he wants to have a chance at overtaking Elliott and winning this year’s championship, he cannot afford a calamity like that in tonight’s race.

Throughout the season, both JRM men have been steady in their performance. But while each of them have at least 20 Top-10 finishes in 2014 – Smith with 22, Elliott with 20 – it’s been Elliott that had claimed the bigger results with three wins to Smith’s one and 12 Top-5 finishes to Smith’s six.

That difference has added up to the 18-point cushion Elliott enjoys now as the championship has become a two-horse race (although tonight’s pole sitter, Ty Dillon, may have something to say about that).

Tonight, Elliott and Smith will start together in Row 5. With time running out, Smith has to start banking finishes ahead of his rookie counterpart to cut into his deficit.

And it has to start tonight on a track that has never been kind to him.

“It’s so tough without somebody having a problem to make points up the way the structure is, and the way the races play out in the Nationwide Series,” Smith said earlier this week. “If you’re making up three or four points a week, that’s been a good day. And that’s the way you have to look at it.

“I would say there is probably four or five of us that still have a shot at [the championship]. Realistically, maybe a couple of those guys need some bad luck from cars ahead of them. If somebody rolls off three or four wins in a row, those bonus points are huge and you’re going to jump right back up into it pretty quickly.”