Stewart-Haas Racing have confirmed that Xfinity Series regular Regan Smith will drive the #41 entry in this weekend's Daytona 500, after NASCAR announced an indefinite race suspension for regular driver Kurt Busch following allegations of domestic abuse.
"I was planning on watching the race on the couch just like anybody and whether it would be talking to folks through Twitter or whatever I would normally do to watch the 500," Smith said. "I was going to do that and enjoy the race at home. So, we will adjust those plans just a little bit - I'll have a little bit better seat for the race."
"Things happened pretty late last night," he added, starting with the need to have a seat fitting in time for him to take part in the final practice session for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series season opener. "We had a plan coming into this morning of what time to get up, which was quite a bit earlier than I would normally get up.
"But, we've worked around all that stuff and getting the seat stuff ready so we can go make some laps with Happy Hour, it's kind of convenient that I can get a few laps in the car at least before Sunday and get acclimated and see where the switches are and see where the buttons are," he acknowledged. "Beyond that, we'll get through practice; and for me, I've got to focus on the Xfinity car and making sure we get off to a good start to the season over there."
Smith took it relatively carefully in the sole 85-minute final practice session remaining to him, ending up with the 30th fastest time out of the 35 drivers who took the opportunity to go out. His best time of 46.473s (193.661mph) was almost two seconds off the fastest of the day set by Denny Hamlin with a lap of 44.531s (202.106mph) to put the Joe Gibbs Racing #11 less than two hundredths of a second clear of Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne at the top of the timesheets.
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Among Smith's preparations on Saturday was a meeting with the #41's veteran crew chief Tony Gibson about how they would approach the weekend after everything that had transpired.
"He made it very clear that the goals and expectations are the same for tomorrow as they were two days ago, or three days ago," said Smith. "They have a car capable of winning the race, and that is what we are going to go out and try to do. That has all stayed the same, we're fortunate; there is a fortunate side for us and me in particular is that I have nothing to lose in this race other than to go out and drive as hard as I can, and as fast as I can. Obviously, if it ruffles a few feathers, oh well! That is how it is."
Smith added that he had not spoken with Kurt Busch since the news about the former Cup champion's suspension had broken late on Friday afternoon.
"I have not spoken to Kurt and I don't know if I will or won't before everything gets done," he said. "Naturally since he's been driving the car, just purely from a race car driver's standpoint it would be beneficial to me to talk to him and say hey, what can I expect out of the car if I get in the middle of three wide or if I get stuck on the high side on this part of the race track. If that opportunity presents, then obviously we'll discuss that stuff. But outside of that, I haven't spoken to him."
Shortly after the Cup practice concluded, Busch himself was in a rather different type of action as he mounted an expedited challenge to NASCAR's decision to place him on an indefinite suspension until the allegations of domestic abuse against his former partner Patricia Driscoll are resolved. After a hearing lasting almost three hours, Busch's appeal was denied.
"Upon hearing the testimony, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel decided that the Appellant violated the rules set forth in the penalty notice. The Panel therefore decided to uphold the original penalty assessed by NASCAR," the official statement concluded.
Busch will now take his case to NASCAR's Final Appeals Officer, Bryan Moss who will hear the case from both sides on Saturday evening at the International Motorsports Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. His judgement will be binding on all parties.
SHR management will take a few days to decide whether to continue the #41 with a different driver in the meantime, or whether to mothball the car and crew for the time being.
"Stewart-Haas Racing is planning on Regan Smith driving the #41 car in the Daytona 500," was as far as SHR's director of communication Mike Arning would be drawn on the matter.
"I'm just purely focused on the Daytona 500 right now and helping these guys get through this weekend," added Smith. "Outside of that I don't know anything. We've got our plate pretty full just getting ready to run tomorrow. So, we are going to make sure we get through all that stuff."
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