NNS: Regan Smith aspires for Cup return, but happy to stay with JR Motorsports

Leave a comment

Regan Smith is in a pretty good place at JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and he knows that.

Smith, who runs second in the series championship to teammate Chase Elliott, always has a solid team and equipment behind him. And he’s certainly capitalized on that this season, earning one win, seven Top-5s, and 24 Top-10s.

So while he wants to one day return to the top-level Sprint Cup Series, Smith believes that his current situation with JRM is fine for the time being.

He’ll stay in it for another season, confirming today at Kansas that he’s signed a new one-year deal.

“I’m excited to be back,” Smith said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a great place to call home and a great place to race at, with good people, good sponsors, and fast race cars. As a driver, that’s something that you always look for and that’s important.

“You want to have an opportunity to get out there and showcase what you can do every week, and I’m fortunate enough to have that…I’ve learned a lot over the past two years, and I’m sure I’m gonna learn a lot more next year even and continue to try and get that championship, whether it’s this year or next year.”

However, the long-term goal is to race in Cup again. Smith has made 172 Cup starts in his career, with a shock win for Furniture Row Racing at Darlington in 2011 serving as the biggest highlight from that stretch.

But Smith felt it was more important at this point to solidify his status for 2015. He also said that he’d rather go into a Cup program that can help him run consistently up front and not stuck in mid-pack.

“Not to say that any of the [Cup] openings out there aren’t capable of doing those things – it’s just, at the time, and based on what discussions I had with people and people within my inner circle, I was excited to be able to come back and work at JR Motorsports for another year,” he said.

“Everything’s been great there from Day 1 and it’s been a steady path of growth, getting better as a company. It’s been fun to be a part of, it’s been fun to see that happen and take place. I still think there’s another step we can take and we are all driven to do that and continue that growth.”

As for his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., he’s pleased to retain Smith’s services and to have JRM’s 2015 program remain relatively unchanged from what it is now.

“I’m really, really happy that we’re basically gonna have a carbon copy of what we did this year,” Earnhardt said in his own presser today at Kansas. “We’ve had a lot of success and I think we can build on that. Everything’s gonna stay in place and we’re gonna go on down the road.

“‘On down the road’ [in Nationwide] is just 12 months; when you talk about the Cup Series, you look a little further. But I’d like to race for that company one day, so I hope we’ll keep it healthy until that opportunity presents itself, whenever I’m done Cup racing, to jump in that Nationwide car for a couple years in my own shop.”

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
Leave a comment

Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500