NASCAR Watkins Glen 2013: Regan Smith open to driving No. 14 car; Dale Earnhardt Jr. supports idea

Jared C. Tilton

Regan Smith is the leading candidate to drive the No. 14 car in Tony Stewart’s absence. It’s a move his NASCAR Nationwide Series car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., fully supports.

With Tony Stewart sidelined with a broken leg indefinitely, Stewart-Haas Racing is in need of a driver for the next few weeks.

One of the leading candidates is Regan Smith, who is second in Nationwide Series points driving a car fielded by JR Motorsports. The 2011 winner of the Southern 500 said he is "open to the possibilities" and has exchanged texts with the team throughout the week.

"Any driver would relish that opportunity, it's just unfortunate on the circumstances," Smith said Friday at Watkins Glen. "... It's going to be a great opportunity for somebody to hop into a fast racecar and get a chance to showcase themselves."

SHR would prefer to have just one driver fill Stewart's seat. But because of logistics that may not be a possibility, as Nationwide is competing at Mid-Ohio next week while the Sprint Cup Series is at Michigan. Max Papis is driving the No. 14 car this weekend on the 2.45-mile road course.

But starting at Bristol, the Cup and Nationwide schedules align more closely and would allow a driver to run in both series.

"The obvious challenges would be the simple fact that you have a Cup program that is going to be able to contend for the owner's championship," Smith said. "And you've got a Nationwide program and team that is contending for a championship as well. You have those two things that you have to find the balance and make sure both teams are getting 100 percent of your focus and commitment."

Smith has the support of his Nationwide team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said he "would be the first to want to put Regan's name in the hat for that kind of opportunity."  With Smith in the battle for the Nationwide championship, Earnhardt feels the extra track time would be advantageous in his efforts to secure the title.

"It would be a challenge, but I think it could help him in some ways," Earnhardt said. "It would also give him an opportunity to showcase himself on the Cup side. That would be good for him."

When Earnhardt was knocked out of two races with a concussion in October it was Smith who stepped in and drove the No. 88 to a seventh-place finish at Kansas.

Another factor making Smith the leading contender to replace Stewart is the similarities between SHR and JRM, as both use cars and engines provided by Hendrick Motorsports.

One driver who will not be considered to drive the No. 14 is Kyle Larson. At 21 and in his first full season in Nationwide, SHR officials don't feel he has the necessary experience needed to maintain the team's position in owners' points.

"Kyle Larson is obviously an awesome race car driver," said SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli. "I think we are only seeing the beginnings of what he has to offer to the sport. I think he is at a really crucial spot in his career of learning everything he can and not getting ‘fed to the wolves' too soon would you say."

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