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

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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.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.