Smith Ready To Take Over
March 20, 2007 | 3:29 P.M. EST
The 23-year-old driver from the Ginn Racing stable will not only make his first Cup start this weekend at one of the most unpredictable tracks on the NASCAR circuit, but he will also be taking over the driving duties from a legend, who guided the team car to the top of the point standings.
Smith will pilot the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet - the Car of Tomorrow version - in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mark Martin, who drove the Army Chevy in the first four races of the season, is taking the next two weekends off as part of his limited 2007 schedule. Martin scored four top-10 finishes in the 01 car and left last week's event in Atlanta as the points leader.
"No question, I have some really big shoes to fill," said Smith. "But the only pressure I feel is what I have put on myself. Everyone understands the situation and there has been no outside pressure from the ownership, sponsors or the guys.
"I am only excited and pumped because I'm with a great race team and getting into a great race car," continued Smith. "I also take a lot of pride wearing the Army colors and representing our soldiers. I am in a great situation."
Smith, who will also compete in Saturday's Busch race in the No. 4 Ginn Resorts Chevrolet, says he is realistic about what to expect in his Cup debut at the half-mile bullring.
"I think everyone would agree that Bristol is not the easiest track," offered Smith. "It's a tough place when you're having a good day. The mindset from our end is not to expect a win or a top-10 finish. I want to finish the race, be on the lead lap and have the car in one piece. That's a tall order for Bristol, but with some luck, I think we can deliver that result."
And to add even more uniqueness about Smith’s debut is that it will be the first race for NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow.
"I look at the Car of Tomorrow as just another race car that all of us have to deal with," said Smith. "We had a pretty good test in Bristol a few weeks ago. Again, I don’t see it being anything major, it’s a race car and we’ve all driven many different types of cars in our careers."
Smith feels that he has gained confidence since being around Martin, who has been his racing idol since his childhood days in upstate New York.
"Mark has been a great role model," said Smith. "He has taught me how to carry myself as a driver and how to respect the equipment, the team and the competition.
"On the track there have been some things I have struggled with in the past and really didn't have anyone to go to for advice. But now I have Mark and there's nobody better. There have been times I was like a duck out of water and he pointed me in the right direction. I feel very fortunate to be in this position."
After Bristol it doesn't get any easier for Smith. His next two races in the 01 Army Chevy will be at Martinsville (April 1) and at Talladega (April 29).
"The best places to learn are on the toughest tracks and I don't think it gets any tougher than Bristol, Martinsville and Talladega," offered Smith. "Really, the track doesn't matter -- it's the opportunity to go out there and prove yourself against the best drivers in the world."
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