Regan Smith, NASCAR's top free agent for 2013
It came as a surprise to many, but on Friday after qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Regan Smith said that he doesn't think he will be back with Furniture Row Racing in 2013 (according to Sporting News).
One name stands out more than any other as the possible replacement for Smith: Kurt Busch. The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion has been in discussions with this team for most of this season about fielding a possible second car in 2013.
Well, it appears that the funding for this second car never came, and Sporting News reports FRR may choose Busch over Smith—an option that would have a lot of people scratching their heads.
Regan Smith did win that race at Talladega in 2007—let's make that perfectly clear. NASCAR robbed him. And he also got Furniture Row Racing its first win in 2011 at Darlington Raceway.
Yes, the 78 team has struggled a lot in 2012. But the addition of Todd Berrier seemed to have them headed in the right direction.
So, Smith's letting go was shocking. But it puts Regan Smith in an interesting spot for 2013. Where will he end up? It's too late in the offseason for rides like the No. 22 or No. 20. But there are still some options for Smith, options that can put him in Victory Lane.
The most obvious one is Richard Petty Motorsports. Both RPM drivers, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, are not re-signed yet for next season. RPM is very close to a deal with Ford Motor Company to continue their tenure together. Ford will probably aim to keep Ambrose, but the same can't be said for Almirola, who has underachieved in his first full season.
Regan Smith is a great hire for the No. 43 team if RPM can get its hands on him. It's a two-car operation, and the team has sponsorship. Smith can help that team simply by doing what he does best: not tear stuff up. If he can get the most out of the 43 and not put it in the wall, a Chase may not be too far out of RPM's reach in 2013.
The second option is Phoenix Racing. He and Kurt Busch could just swap rides. Busch has torn up so much equipment at James Finch's organization, but Smith won't do that.
It's a car that's pretty fast at times, and not so fast at others. That's something Smith's been accustomed to his whole career. It would be a great signing for James Finch.
Option No. 3 isn't really out there right now, but it's Richard Childress Racing. Childress has expressed his desire to start a fourth team. Even if a little bit of funding comes to RCR, that's enough, because Smith won't tear the car up. He'd get the team set up and get it set before Austin Dillon takes over in 2014.
Option No. 4 is Tommy Baldwin Racing. Baldwin's organization has not run as strongly this season as it did in 2011. It's a two-car team with the budget of a single-car team. It's a good organization for what it is, and with the proper funding, it could be a very good team. Smith won't make the Chase with TBR, but he would make the team a great deal better.
Option No. 5 is JTG/Daugherty Racing. The organization's current driver, 2000 series champion Bobby Labonte, is a good guy and a great driver. But he hasn't officially been re-signed either. Is Regan Smith a better option than the 48-year-old Bobby Labonte? My love for Labonte says no, but it is a biased opinion. I'll leave that one up for you guys to decide.
Option No. 6 is BK Racing. The two-car organization, with current drivers Travis Kvapil and Landon Cassill, has shown signs of solid racing at times, especially Travis Kvapil's team. Smith could end up replacing either one of those drivers. Although this is option No. 6, if the other five options don't take for Smith, he'll have to settle for this.
Regan Smith is now the top free agent on the market, topping even David Reutimann. If a team doesn't take a chance with him, it's crazy. He's a fantastic talent and is the most underrated driver in the garage area. With the right opportunity and the right funding, Regan is a Chase contender.
Once 2013 is over, I think Furniture Row Racing may be making a terrible this decision. It's one that the organization will regret for the rest of its existence. Mark my words.