When Regan Smith saw the text from Steve Letarte at 7 a.m. Thursday, he had no idea what the message was about.
It was unusual enough for Smith to get a text from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief. When Smith saw words to the effect of "Give me a call asap," he was intrigued.
"I was actually just getting up and drinking a cup of coffee, about to head for the gym," said Smith, who called Letarte immediately. "He said, ‘Why don't you head over to the shop instead of heading for the gym?' So that's what I did, and obviously found out the rest of the news as it went on."
The rest of the news was that Earnhardt would be sidelined by a concussion for at least two races. Earnhardt, Letarte and team owner Rick Hendrick had settled on Smith as the replacement driver for the No. 88 car.
Accordingly, life changed abruptly for the 29-year-old driver, who had exited the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet in favor of veteran Kurt Busch after last Sunday's Cup race at Talladega.
Smith had been scheduled to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing, the ride Busch vacated for the No. 78.
Smith also has been talking with JR Motorsports, whose ownership group includes Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick, about racing for the Nationwide Series title next year.
"We've had some talks," Smith acknowledged. "Certainly that would be something that would be really cool for me. But right now, the focus is on getting the AMP Energy Chevy as far forward as we can."