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NASCAR Season Preview: Regan Smith

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

#78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing

Born: September 23, 1983

Home: Cato, New York

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Smith got his first (official) Sprint Cup win in exciting fashion, beating Carl Edwards to the line in a green-white-checkered finish at Darlington. He and his Furniture Row Racing team developed a habit of running well at big races, finishing seventh in the Daytona 500 and third at Indianapolis, and Smith developed a high-profile drafting partnership with Kurt Busch on superspeedways.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Six consecutive finishes outside of the top 30 after the Daytona 500 killed any chances at a decent season for Smith, who found himself 30th in points heading to Texas in April. The win would have given him a chance at a wild-card Chase spot if he could have cracked the top 20, but he never saw those heights again after Phoenix in February. At season’s end, Smith ranked 26th in points.

SEASON OUTLOOK: After failing to even score a top 10 together in 2010, Smith and Furniture Row took a quantum leap forward by scoring five last season, buoyed by the Darlington win. That resume led Roger Penske to consider hiring Smith to replace Kurt Busch in his #22 car, though A.J. Allmendinger got the job. But Smith will return to the team for a fourth season (their third competing full-time together), and with those accomplishments under their belt, they can enter the 2012 season with further elevated expectations.

Crew chief Pete Rondeau returns, as do the Earnhardt-Childress engines that powered the team last year. In fact, the biggest change has been Smith’s marriage in the offseason. That consistency during the offseason should only help Smith improve on his results once the green flag finally drops. A Chase berth will likely be too much to ask, but cracking the top 20 shouldn’t be, and anything short of the top 25 in points will be a disappointment.

– Chris Leone

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