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.”

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.