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Cato native Regan Smith doesn’t get the opportunity to race in NASCAR much these days, so when he does, he wants to make the most of the opportunity.

Smith, 35, hasn’t competed in a NASCAR event since the Monster Energy Cup Series finale in 2018 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But this weekend, it will be a reunion of sorts, putting the band back together at JR Motorsports to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

The driver is excited to buckle into a racecar for the first time in 2019.

“Any opportunity I have to drive, I always get pumped up about it,” Smith said. “I’m still a competitive person and a competitor, and I thoroughly enjoy that aspect of it. It’s a big deal. I don’t get to do a lot of races. Last year I did more than I anticipated. This year, I went into the season and had to kind of think ‘Hey, I’m probably not going to race this year.’ When these (races) popped up, and it happened to be with JR Motorsports, it was the perfect scenario.”

Smith ran for JR Motorsports full-time between 2013 and 2015, recording five victories, one of which was at Mid-Ohio in 2015. In those years, he finished second, third and fourth in the championship standings, respectively.

The whole reason this opportunity for Smith popped up to run Mid-Ohio and Road America on Sunday, Aug. 25, was because of lasting relationships he made in his stint at JRM.

“It was actually through a guy that works over at JRM that’s a close friend of mine and Junior both,” Smith added. “I’ve got good relationships with everybody there over the years, but he had just mentioned to me at one point that they might have the road courses open, and I said ‘which ones?’ He said, I think we might have Mid-Ohio and Road America open. I said, ‘Man, those would be my two favorite ones to run. I love those racetracks.’”

Smith noted that this happened within a 30-minute period while attending a meeting. He will be sponsored by Fire Alarm Services, one of his former sponsors at JRM.

The difference between Mid-Ohio and Road America compared to most tracks on the NASCAR circuit is they are road courses — meaning there are both left and right hand turns. Smith, a driver who grew up racing road courses, believes because he’s making his return to a road course he has a fighting chance to win against the full-time competition.

“I don’t go to a racetrack without the expectation of winning the race,” Smith stated. “I never have. It doesn’t matter what scenario you’re in, and maybe that’s to my ignorance, no matter what I’ve been driving or what I’ve been in or what stage of my career I’ve been in. I always show up with the idea of ‘I’m going to drive this racecar as fast as I possibly can, and if everything works out right, either we’ll be the fastest car here or we’ll find a way to get ourselves up front and win it.

“You don’t go to a racetrack with the expectation of ‘Let’s just be here.’ I’m going to be happy because I was in a racecar and I was having fun, and I was working with a lot of people that I’ve known for a very long time, and a lot of people that I’m good friends with outside of the sport within JR Motorsports.”

Smith added that being at the JR Motorsports race shop on Monday was one of his best days of the year because he was talking racing with many of his former team members previewing this weekend’s race.

2016 was Smith’s last full-time NASCAR season, racing with Tommy Baldwin Racing at the Cup level, placing a season-best third at Pocono Raceway. Despite finding a new home at NASCAR on Fox being a pit reporter for the past two years, Smith admits he wishes he could race more.

“I’m a racer, so I’m always going to miss it,” Smith said. “It’s unlikely that I would be full-time racing again, and I think when you put it into that context, even though you miss it, you understand and appreciate the times that you get do it again and you get to hop behind that wheel and have that joy and feeling of adrenaline that comes along with it.

“I’ve never done a drug in my life, but I’ve always compared it to somebody that’s hooked on something and once you do it you just can’t stop. When you do stop, it’s a little bit weird at first and then you get a little more used to it and then accustomed to it.

“I have missed it. I’m lucky because I have something else that immediately occupied my time and occupied my brain. It’s something else that I enjoy doing in the TV side of things and that I enjoy trying to get better at.”

In three starts at Mid-Ohio, Smith has the aforementioned victory in 2015 with another runner-up finish in 2014. At Road America, he has a best outing of eighth in three starts, though believes he usually has more speed at the latter racetrack.

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