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Q&A with Tommy Baldwin Racing Driver Regan Smith, Experiencing the Highs and Lows of 2016

Tuesday, May 17 1971
In January, Regan Smith has no idea what his plans were for the 2016 NASCAR season. However, a call late in the month during the NASCAR Media Tour saw the series veteran head to Tommy Baldwin Racing and drive the No. 7 car for the 2016 season.

After finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500 the team has struggled. The organization has shown speed, but haven't quite put the finishes together to compete with the top teams.

After 12 races, Smith sits 32nd in Sprint Cup points after a blown engine in Dover. However, the 32-year-old is happy with where the team is at, knowing that there are good days right around the corner.

Dustin Albino: How do you feel the season has gone so far?

Regan Smith: I feel like we’ve done some things really good. I think the best thing is we haven’t left a racetrack with a notebook that is considerably bigger than what we’ve got. We’ve had some speed at a lot of the racetracks and if we could just clean some things up then we should legitimately be running 20th to 24th every week in the races. We’ve got to get better at qualifying and a couple of little things here and there. The short tracks are something that we’ve kind of highlighted as more of a struggle for us. I think we’ve come along quick and I think we are only a couple of small mistakes and a couple of cleaning up different areas away from really being happy with where we are at.

Albino: How do you improve on that?

Smith: Qualifying is going to help. We’ve had a little bit of an issue in traffic on restarts with our car having a bigger balance shift than what we need. We’ve got to look at that and work on that a little bit and outside of that it’s just continuing to build that notebook. We’re going back to places for a second time and say ‘this is what we did last time.’ Coming to places for the second time around we should be better. We should be able to say ‘hey this is what we learned and this is what we need to improve on.’ We will have a whole other set of things the second time around that we will need to highlight and say these are the next things we’ve got to work on. Its constant building and addressing different issues that arrive until you get through all of the things that maybe are the quick ones that you can adjust and then you go to the things that are a little more fine detailed and fine tuned.

Albino: How has the new aero package affected you?

Smith: Well, it hasn’t really affected me much at all because I don’t know what the old one felt like that much. From that standpoint I don’t know. I know what the cars felt like at the beginning of last year because I did a couple of races, but to me they don’t feel a whole lot different. It might be because of the tire at the time or because the teams adjusted and adapted. I don’t think it’s been a huge change. I do think what has happened is you can run closer together, which has allowed more passing because now we have a softer tire. You keep hearing the drivers be happy about the racetrack. You can pass a little bit easier than you could in the past. There are some tracks that it’s been a little bit of a similar struggle. Kansas, for example, was a similar struggle, where it was hard to pass and you could run up next to the wall and we can move around because the tire is different. That’s because of the aero package.

Albino: How much does it put back into the drivers hands versus the COT or even last year?

Smith: It’s a lot different. You can’t even really compare it to that now. With that said there are a lot of advancements that have been made to the racecar itself and safety and different areas with that particular car are still there. The chassis is still the same. There are a lot of things that are really similar. There are a lot of things that are very similar other than what it looks like on the outside of the car. It’s a tough comparison to make. That particular part of our racecar was a little bit of a mistake and that’s been acknowledged at this point. It’s been corrected and we’ve moved on.

Albino: Do you feel like the team has overachieved at all following your Daytona run?

Smith: I think there’s weeks that we have and I think there’s weeks that we walk away thinking we should have done better. We are capable of more than that. The thing that’s really tough to put on a piece of paper is where we should or shouldn’t be as a small team. There’s areas where there are some weaknesses. We don’t have four teams in the same shop that are comparing stuff. We’re relatively a small group in terms of people and numbers. I think that what we do a particularly good job of is we pull on the rope equally as hard. Everybody is racers and we dig in. It’s not like we have to work crazy hours because we have less people. We get more done and we need to be productive because of that.

Albino: How many employees are on the team?

Smith: It fluctuates between 25 and 30, To put it in comparison I would say the next smallest team is 50. I know of other one-car teams that are upward of 60 people and I guess that’s the compliment to our people. We run as good as some of those same teams and we compete with them with that many less people so that shows you how well everyone is doing.

Albino: Is running for Tommy Baldwin Racing everything you thought it would be when you got the phone call in January?

Smith: Quite honestly when we fired off I thought ‘okay we’re ahead of where I anticipated us being at this particular point.’ Even right now we’ll go a week like Kansas and legitimately should have finished around 19th. Unfortunately, there was a late race restart that kind of cost us some spots, but you look at a race like that and you say ‘okay, that’s a good day.’ For us as a small team that’s where we need to be and that’s how we continue to build more partners and grow it on this team. Occasionally, we’ll have a race that we know we are better than that. We know we are better than what we are on that day. As a whole the speed we’ve shown in the races I’ve been pretty happy about that.

Albino: How involved is Tommy on the team?

Smith: He’s very valuable. I mean he’s the car owner. He’s our head sales guy when it comes to going out and getting different partners and companies on the car. He’s the one that has to go to owners meetings. He’s the crew chief. He wears a lot of different hats. There’s not a lot of guys in the garage area that would be capable of doing that and still understanding it, being able to hop in the racecar, work on it our come over here and work on something on the computer, or call Golden Corral and talk to their CEO. It’s a rarity and he’s extremely valuable to us because of that. Not just that stuff, but other stuff as well.

Albino: Everyone always talks about low budgets and needing sponsorship to perform at a high level. How hard is it?

Smith: When your budget is not like a Hendrick is you need to be smarter. Every decision needs to be a little more precise because making a wrong decision and changing it in a two day period takes a little bit longer. If we go the wrong direction in something, whether it’s because I gave bad feedback, or because we thought something would work and it didn’t, or whatever, it takes a little more time to correct that, especially on the bigger stuff. With that said, I think we are doing a pretty good job of showing that these teams need to step up what they are doing as well.

Albino: What’s the pressure like to keep this ride?

Smith: There’s always pressure. This is my livelihood so I take it personal. Every time you go on the racetrack you want to win, you want to run up front, you want to do better than the time you were on the racetrack before. If there is no pressure than you probably don’t need to be doing this.

Albino: Is it comparable to last season when you had to virtually race every race like it was your last because you didn’t know what your plans were?

Smith: I don’t know if the pressure last year when I didn’t know what I was going to do this year was different that what it is now. I don’t think that changes. For me it doesn’t change what I do in the racecar. I’m going to go out there and you get the same thing on the racetrack that you get no matter what the circumstances are.

Albino: Is this just a one-year deal?

Smith: Yeah. Our focus is how do we go faster and what do we do better for the next race. That’s what we do and that’s how that stuff needs to be.

Albino: You also appear weekly on RaceHub. How did that come about?

Smith: I did a couple of them last year and they inquired me into doing some this year and I started doing some more and it’s been kind of slowly growing to where they have me on there more and more often. I don’t know if I’m doing good or bad, but I enjoy it. I have fun kind of giving different feedback on some things and just getting to talk about the sport. I love racecars so if you can talk about it the way you are at the track it might show someone who wasn’t at the track before then it’s great.

Albino: Do you ever think of anything post-NASCAR, such as broadcasting?

Smith: You always think about post-NASCAR because I can only race for so long. Whether you get on a different side of the sport, or get out of the sport all together or whatever comes after this. I’m not an engineer by trade or anything like that so that’s not in my cards to get in that part of the sport. I guess as I get older I think about that stuff a little more, but at the same time you’ve got to focus on what your tasks are at that moment and at the moment right now is to drive this car as fast as I can.

Albino: What’s your main goal for the rest of the year?

Smith: Our main goal is we want to get that consistency. We want to say ‘okay consistently here for three straight weeks, now we’ve got to figure out how to consistently be here for three straight weeks.’ Just keep making gains. I think that’s going to be the goal going on is to make gains. There are going to be more opportunity for top 10s throughout the course of the year and when that happens we needs to capitalize on that. We’ve got to get all of those that we can. We’ve got to continue growing this thing and to get it to the point where we get more resources and more of the stuff we need to go out there and keep getting better.


Follow Albino on Twitter at @DustinAlbino

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Dustin Albino

Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015. 

Twitter: @DustinAlbino
Instagram: @dustin_albino

 

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