By Reid Spencer Thursday, October 25 2012 00:00
For the past two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, Regan Smith substituted for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was sidelined by a concussion.
Next year, Smith will be calling Earnhardt "boss," after reaching an agreement to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2013.
Smith will get an early start on the arrangement. He'll drive a third JR Motorsports entry, along with teammates Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt, in the Nov. 17 Nationwide season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the team announced Wednesday.
"This is an extremely good opportunity for me," Smith said in a statement released by the team. "Dale Jr. and I first started talking about this several years ago, but the timing never matched up to where we could make it happen. Now it's time. I'm happy to be a part of this organization. I don't want to just win races. I want to be the team that dominates races and contends for the championship."
Smith started the season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver for Furniture Row Racing but lost his ride to 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch with six races left. When Earnhardt announced he would miss two races because of concussions suffered at Kansas and Talladega, Smith was hired as his replacement.
The No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered an engine failure at Charlotte, but Smith drove the car to a seventh-place finish Sunday at Kansas.
"Regan has always impressed me," said Earnhardt Jr., part of a JRM ownership group that includes his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Rick Hendrick. "He gets the most of his car, no matter what he's driving or who he's driving for.
"He takes care of his cars and gets good finishes. With his experience and ability, we feel he can excel in our equipment. He has a super personality, and his ability to work with everyone here at JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports will be important in getting us back to the winner's circle."
With Patrick graduating to a full-time Cup ride with Stewart-Haas Racing next season, Smith is the only driver with a full-time deal with JRM so far, though Earnhardt Miller said the goal of the organization is to run two full-time teams, the No. 5 and No. 7 in 2013.
Earnhardt Jr. also will drive in selected races next season but will switch to the No. 88, the car Whitt has driven this year.
"We feel it is important for our sponsors, our fans, and even Dale to keep his Nationwide Series number consistent with his Cup number," Earnhardt Miller said. "His brand is associated with the No. 88. That's what makes him distinguishable on the race track, so it's only natural that he drives the No. 88 all the time.
"To do that, we are making our No. 5 Chevrolet our full-time entry. "We hope to have Cole in the No. 7 full-time in 2013, and we are working hard on securing sponsorship for that."
Smith last drove in the Nationwide Series in 2007, when he posted his three best finishes (fifth place at Charlotte and twice at Nashville). He posted one victory in the Furniture Row Cup car, in last year's Southern 500 at Darlington.
Earnhardt was cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville, leaving Smith temporarily without a ride. Phoenix Racing owner James Finch confirmed Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Smith, who was supposed to drive Finch's No. 51 Chevrolet at Charlotte before he got the call from Steve Letarte, Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, would be in the car for the final two Cup races of the season, at Phoenix and Homestead.
AJ Allmendinger, who drove for Finch at Charlotte and Kansas and had the car in the top 10 last Sunday before a blown tire ruined his day, will be in the No. 51 at Martinsville (Sunday) and Texas (Nov. 4).
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