12 October 2012
Biffle sets new record to claim Charlotte pole
Biffle's team mate Matt Kenseth will also start in the top ten, after claiming seventh place in qualifying. Other Chase contenders making top ten starts this weekend are Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson (fifth) and Kasey Kahne (tenth) while the third member of the Hendrick squad - four-time champion Jeff Gordon - will start from just outside in 13th.
The final member of the team, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be missing altogether from this week's race. Earnhardt admitted on Thursday that he had suffered a concussion during last weekend's massive last-lap wreck that ended up catching out 25 cars, and has been told by medical staff that he needs to take two races off after complaining of headaches.
Earnhardt's seat in the #88 will be taken by Regan Smith, who has been racing for Furniture Row Racing this season but who got ousted from the seat when the team signed up Kurt Busch to race for them in 2013.
"It's an exciting opportunity for me," admitted Smith. "I hate the circumstances around it. Obviously, Dale's safety and getting him healthy are the most important things right now. With that said, it's a great opportunity for me to hop in the race car."
Smith only found out that he was to be offered the stand-in role for Charlotte and Kansas at 7am on Thursday morning and went on to qualify the #88 in 26th position in the afternoon, but he denied that filling in for the most popular and iconic driver in the series added any undue pressure.
"There's pressure every time you sit in a race race and drive," he insisted. "It doesn't matter what car it is. Every driver in this garage feels the same pressure every week. I'm going to put the same pressure on myself this weekend that I did last week and as I did two years ago."
Earnhardt himself says that he wasn't going to be leaning over Smiths's shoulder offering advice over the weekend. "Regan doesn't need any tutoring or anything like that," he said, adding that he wouldn't even stay at the speedway for the race in order that he didn't become a distraction. "He's going to do a great job. I'm excited for his opportunity."
Smith had been due to race this weekend in the Phoenix Racing #51 car - essentially completing a straight swap with Kurt Busch. Rick Hendrick had needed to call the owner of Phoenix Racing, James Finch, to get Smith released from that commitment in order to put him into the #88 instead.
"[Regan]'s a good friend of Dale's," said Hendrick. "Dale likes him, we're familiar with him. We knew he was going to be in James' car, so it just seemed to fit." Hendrick added that the team had already been looking at offering Smith a seat with them in the Nationwide Series next year, if he wasn't able to pick up a more suitable berth at Cup level.
Losing Smith left Finch in a hole with regard to getting a driver to fill in at the team in the #51 Phoenix Racing car. Fortunately, an available driver had presented himself to the team just a few days ago at Talladega looking for any racing vacancies - one AJ Allmendinger, late of Penske Racing until he was fired following a positive result in a random drugs test over the summer.
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