Friday Notebook: Early-morning shocker puts Regan Smith in Earnhardt's rideWith Regan Smith enlisted to replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports, the car Smith was scheduled to drive for the first time — Phoenix Racing's No. 51 Chevrolet — had an open seat.
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
CONCORD, N.C. — 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."
DRIVER FEEDBACK KEY TO SAFEGUARDS
The concussion that will keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the next two Cup races has ramifications beyond the future of NASCAR racing's most popular driver.
One of the most-asked questions in the wake of the Earnhardt announcement was whether NASCAR and medical personnel at race tracks can or should do more to help identify possible concussions and what that might mean in terms of withholding drivers from competition.
Given that a description of symptoms is usually necessary to diagnose a concussion, the bottom line is that accurate identification of a concussion depends in large part on the cooperation and honesty of the driver.
Earnhardt chose not to seek treatment after a hard wreck during testing Aug. 29 at Kansas and continued to drive, though he acknowledged Thursday that he was less than 100 percent before the Chase for the Sprint Cup started.
After a wreck at Talladega on Sunday, Earnhardt had a persistent headache and sought medical advice from neurologist Dr. Jerry Petty, who held Earnhardt out of at least the next two races, pending further evaluation after he is symptom-free.
"It will probably help to go back to Kansas and what happened," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. "He was seen by an ambulance, proper safety measures were in place, he was cleared. I talked to (Kansas Speedway president) Pat Warren at the track. He had conversations with Junior, post-incident, and everything seemed fine.
"So that's where I would say the process of an evaluation for any athlete or driver - it's not just NASCAR making the call. It has to be the driver as well, letting us know how he's feeling. Part of that we can always evaluate as we will. We'll look at Kansas and see what we may be able to do better."
ALLMENDINGER TO DRIVE NO. 51 CHEVY
With Regan Smith enlisted to replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports, the car Smith was scheduled to drive for the first time — Phoenix Racing's No. 51 Chevrolet — had an open seat.
Accordingly, team owner James Finch hired AJ Allmendinger to drive the car at Charlotte. Reinstated as a NASCAR competitor after a failed drug test and subsequent completion of NASCAR's Road to Recovery program, Allmendinger met with Finch last weekend at Talladega.
Smith was scheduled to replace Kurt Busch in the Phoenix car after Busch took over Smith's ride in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet.