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NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ford EcoBoost 300

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Ford EcoBoost 300

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ford EcoBoost 300

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Steve Letarte
Regan Smith
November 17, 2012


KERRY THARP:  Let's hear from our race winner tonight in the 18th annual Ford EcoBoost 300, and the driver was Regan Smith.  He drove the No.5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, and his crew chief was Stevie Letarte.  We've got team owner up here Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Congratulations.  You came on strong the second half of that race and really had the field in good order there at the end.  Talk about you're going to be driving this car next year, ending the season on a winning note.  Talk about how good that's got to feel.
REGAN SMITH:  It feels great.  You look at it outside of the champions, there's only three other people that are going to leave here happy from Homestead this year, and fortunately we're one of the teams that can.  First and foremost, I've got to thank all the guys at JR Motorsports.  They've worked really hard all year, and I was just fortunate to get the opportunity to hop in it before the season was over this year.
Dale Jr., Kelly and Mr.H., for letting me drive these things.  I'm pretty pumped up about next year and rightfully so, I think.
Stevie made some great pit calls tonight.  We got the car really dialed in after that last stop.  Up until that point we didn't have first‑run speed so we needed just a little bit of an adjustment to have the speed we needed on the first run until the tires got old.  On old tires I don't feel like there was a car in the field that could compete with us, at least that's what they were telling me.  If they were lying it was a good lie because I believed it.
It's what we needed to do tonight.  Our goal was to come down here and get information, get data, get knowledge for next year, figure out areas that we can do better next year, and certainly I don't want to look past the win, but I still feel like there's races that we could have done better tonight and gotten faster at times with adjustment prior to the race and stuff like that.
So there's still stuff to work on, and I think the main thing is going to be to go into the off‑season and work just as hard as we did to get here so we can continue to do this next year and be out on the front stretch at the end of the year.
KERRY THARP:  Stevie, just talk about the experience tonight being up on the pit box and getting that win.
STEVE LETARTE:  Well, I mean, they're always fun when they're fast.  Regan is a remarkable talent.  I was fortunate enough to‑‑ he was available to get in the Cup car when Dale had to get out for a couple weeks, and we saw then how much talent he had.  All I ended up really doing was calling the race.  I voted a little bit on some of the setup items, but Rex Stump and the JR Motorsports engineers and a few engineers from Hendrick kind of tag‑teamed it throughout the weekend so Dale and I could focus on the Cup car, and they handed us one on a silver platter.  We didn't have to do a whole lot to it.  It was really fast.  We tweaked it a little bit just for the short run there at the end, but they put a remarkable piece out there.
And I just agree with Regan's sentiments.  I think JR Motorsports has really dug their heels in all year long.  This Nationwide Series is tough.  There's a lot of remarkable talent in it, a lot of great race teams, and they've continued to improve and get better through the year.  I think we've seen that the last eight or ten races for sure.  So it was great to come down here and get a head start on next year, and to get the trophy was just that much sweeter.
KERRY THARP:  Dale, congratulations on this win tonight.  I know that's got to feel good looking ahead into 2013, got the No.5 car to victory lane here tonight.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, feels really good for the whole company, JR Motorsports, all the employees.  This is a really big lift for us.  We've made some changes to try to improve our company over the last several months, and we've seen the speed and the performance step up over the last several weeks.  We're just putting some pieces into place to formulate what our plan will be for next year, and part of that was bringing in Regan to drive the car.  We want to have two teams with Regan and Cole, and we're lacking sponsorship currently on Cole's car, but hopefully this raises some awareness and gets some of the potential partners that we're talking to excited about our potential for next year because we really feel like we're making a lot of strides in the right areas.
Regan did a great job tonight.  He's an awesome driver, really good guy, got a great head on his shoulders, does a good job in the car, works tremendously hard, incredibly hard throughout the week and throughout the weekend to be as good as he can be.  Steve and all the guys did a good job just sort of bringing this thing along this weekend.  Rex and all the guys at HMS, the 88 team pitted the car; we need to thank them.  But it was a JRM effort from the ground up.  Aside from those things, and it brings a lot of pride to the company.

Q.  Regan, first of all, what was it like for you to get back into a Nationwide car after five years, hadn't raced one since '07, I think, and when you were racing them the last time they didn't have tapered spacers and have the new body style and everything.  How did you adapt to that so well?  And for Steve, with the way the track changed tonight, how did you anticipate that with the setup of the car?
REGAN SMITH:  Well, I think for me there's been a ton of changes since '07, and I think that was my last race, right?  As you said, the tapered spacer is probably the biggest thing just because it chokes the motors down so much, and that took some time to get used to the first practice, and even the first part of the second practice I was still just getting used to what I could do with the throttle, where I could apply it to go faster and then things that I needed to do there.
It didn't hurt that I had a fast race car from the start, so I didn't have to worry about a lot of things there.  We made a lot of changes, we tried a lot of stuff, but at the same time that balance was always right there, pretty close, and that's a testament to all the folks at JR Motorsports, and certainly Rex Stump had a big hand in it.  I've got to thank him.  He worked really closely with us on this thing this weekend, too.  There's a lot of differences.  I'm sure there's going to be other tracks we go to that it's going to take me a few laps to adjust to where I need to have the power down and where I can use the throttle compared to the Cup car, but it's definitely a good start.

Q.  Dale, did you think you would see this improvement in your cars this quickly when you made the change?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, I was excited about‑‑ we really didn't have the plan to run Regan this weekend until a couple weeks ago.  Steve Letarte has been helping quite a bit behind the scenes as far as helping my sister and the company, Pemberton and all the guys with what our direction is and sort of honing in on how we can improve overall as a company for the long run.  It became an idea to run Regan this weekend, and I knew that Rex is really talented, and Regan having that opportunity to work with Rex this weekend was great, gave us an idea to have a third teammate to have new ideas.
I anticipated Regan to be really strong.  I know what kind of speed he has as a driver, and I knew the kind of potential that our cars have, and in the right circumstances I think this was the perfect storm for them to have a really solid event.  I didn't know if we were strong enough to win, but I knew we'd be very competitive.
I'm just thrilled to death with the effort they put in tonight, and Regan did a good job driving the car.  Just really fast all night.  We made some really good changes that helped him kind of improve, and the track, we kind of kept up with the track.  But I think in the right circumstances, we've got the tools as a company to be competitive in this series, and I think that we made some good changes over the last several months that have given us good direction and given us the ability to come and do things like we did tonight.  I think we can start off the year next year feeling confident we're on the right track.

Q.  Following up on that, Dale, a lot of those changes I know were emotionally wrenching for you and your sister.  Does a night like this sort of validate it, maybe it a little more soothing that even though you had to go through all that adversity it eventually pays off?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, we just want to do what we can.  We want to run as well as we can, and we want to make our partners happy, guys like TaxSlayer and Unilever that have been with us and the new partners that we have.  We want to make them happy.  I just want to do everything right.  I want to have sponsors that are pleased.  I want to have drivers that enjoy working with us and enjoy being with our company.  I want our employees to think it's the best place to work.  That's really what I want to have happen.
And we have made a lot of changes, but you have to make changes sometimes.  Things do change, people come and go in your career and in your life, and you have to do what's right.  It is a business in the end, and you have to make those business decisions.
I know my sister is thrilled to death because she has put in so much of herself into this company, especially this year, and I know this has to be a great night for her particularly.

Q.  Regan, have you now set the standard too high at all?  Are expectations so high by winning your first race out for him?
REGAN SMITH:  Well, I don't know that we set the expectations too high.  I think that we expect this every week, and we're going to expect it every week next year, and I think the main thing is going to be to go into the off‑season and realize that we've got to continue to improve, we've got to continue to build fast race cars, to find more speed because everybody else is going to do it all off‑season.  But no, I don't think winning ever sets the standard too high.  That's what we do this for, and it's what we're going to do it all next year for, and if we're sitting out on the front stretch at the end of the year next year, that's what the goal is and that's what the goal needs to be.

Q.  You don't show up to a track not to win.  You're coming here with the attitude of winning whether you're a top team or a middle team or a bottom team, but did this even surprise you guys?  Are you somewhat surprised at the win, pleasantly surprised?  Junior, as an owner was this a surprise?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, I felt like we could do this.  I felt like this was a real legitimate opportunity for us this weekend.  I've seen Regan do some pretty unique stuff and see some flashes that let me know that given the right opportunity this guy can run the laps one after the other, as long as you need him to run them.  They put a really, really good car underneath him tonight, and he ran the laps, every lap.  It was phenomenal the speed they had.
You know, we had a lot of help from Hendrick, and that influence and that resource and that knowledge is hard to compete against.  That's been kind of part of our turnaround, if you will, was reestablishing our relationship and that line of resources and line of communication, and I think it helped‑‑ it's helping our company JR Motorsports be more competitive, and tonight was a great example of that.
So I wasn't really surprised.  I felt like all right, this is what's supposed to happen.  I know there'll be good times, there'll be bad times in this year.  You're a hero one weekend and a zero the next.  But given the right opportunities and everything falling correctly we can compete, and we have the tools to compete, and this sort of legitimizes that.
KERRY THARP:  Congratulations, Regan, congratulations to Stevie and congratulations to Dale Earnhardt Jr., and continued success.

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