Even though his JR Motorsports driver is involved in a heated battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered ringing endorsement for Regan Smith as a substitute driver in the No. 14 Sprint Cup car of injured Tony Stewart.
“I’d be the first to put Regan’s name in the hat for that kind of opportunity,” Earnhardt said Friday at Watkins Glen International. “I understand that we are racing for a championship and I think that could actually help Regan.”
Stewart broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in a sprint car accident Monday night in Iowa. Max Papis is driving the No. 14 Chevrolet SS at the Glen, but beyond that, Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t named a substitute driver or drivers for what is expected to be an extended absence for the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Earnhardt thinks additional seat time in the Cup car might work to Smith’s benefit.
“It would be a challenge, but I think it could help him in some ways and be an advantage to him maybe to have that extra track time and just be able to have some other ideas in his head about what can improve his car,” Earnhardt said.
“I would be for that, and it would also give him an opportunity to showcase himself and give himself possibly a chance to get some interest on the Cup side as far as ownership goes and get some guys maybe wanting to put him back in the car full time on this (Cup) side of the deal. That would be good for him.”
Logistically, the NASCAR schedule makes it difficult for any driver in the Nationwide Series–particularly those in contention for the championship–to fill in for Stewart next weekend at Michigan. The Nationwide Series races at Mid-Ohio, and the schedules between MIS and the Lexington, Ohio track don’t mesh comfortably.
“The problem we are faced with next week is, if you look at the schedules and you lay out the Nationwide schedule at Mid-Ohio and us in Michigan, they don’t match up very well,” said Greg Zipadelli, director of competition at Stewart-Haas. “Somebody would do two half-assed jobs or we can try and find somebody that is out of the norm and put them in the car and try to go to Michigan and do the best we can.
“Then hopefully maybe Bristol we could pick up with one person that may be able to do the rest of it, and obviously it would be a Nationwide driver.”
Smith, tied for second in the NNS standings and 14 points out of the lead held by Austin Dillon, would be a logical choice. He’s already a Chevrolet driver, and both Stewart-Haas and Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports have affiliations with Hendrick Motorsports.
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