Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It was a team-wide panic attack.
When Regan Smith and his No. 7 JR Motorsports team saw most of a sizable NASCAR Nationwide Series lead erased by two bad finishes last year, he shifted into desperation mode -- unnecessarily so, he says in retrospect.
Fresh from a victory at Michigan, Smith led Sam Hornish Jr. by 58 points 13 races into the 2013 season, but a 32nd-place finish at Road America and a 30th-place result at Kentucky clipped 50 points from that advantage.
Those two outings sent Smith's season into a tailspin.
"We went from one week thinking, 'OK, we've just got to go out there and be smooth,' to two weeks later, thinking, 'Oh, man, they're back on top of us, and now what do we do?'" Smith said Saturday during a break in Nationwide Series testing at Daytona International Speedway. "The reality was they weren't really on top of us. We were all right there together and in (the championship battle).
"We had the spiral in the middle of the season that was tough to get over and tough to understand what was taking place. We still had the same race cars, the same speed, but we started doing things a little more desperately than early in the year and probably didn't need to, myself as a driver and other things along the way.
"And then we had a couple of other hiccups here and there, which are going to happen throughout the course of a season, and I just think we got too desperate to early, to be blunt about it."
In his second full season with JRM, Smith believes he and his team have learned from last year's implosion.
"I think the experience from last year is going to play a big part in understanding that, until we really get down to a certain part of the season, you don't have to panic," Smith said. "You don't have to get desperate. You have to be smart and do the things that you know how to do.
"I had probably 90 people tell me that, and until you sit back at the end of the year and you look at it, you don't realize it."
TANDEM TABOO ON BIG TRACKS
What a new Nationwide Series competition package can't accomplish, as far as tandem drafting is concerned, NASCAR will govern by edict.
Both the sanctioning body and the NNS drivers believe a shorter spoiler and a new cooling package, both mandated for superspeedways this year, will minimize two-car hookups with one car pushing another.
Beyond that, NASCAR informed Nationwide teams in an October meeting that locking bumpers in a tandem draft will be policed and prohibited.
"They made it very clear, that if we tandem at all, both cars will be black-flagged," driver Elliott Sadler said Saturday.
NASCAR's purpose in legislating against tandem drafting is an attempt to diminish the possibility of last-lap melees exacerbated by two-car hookups in which the trailing car is driving blind.
With a drafting trio that included 58-year-old Bill Elliott, his 18-year-old son Chase Elliott and teammate Regan Smith, JR Motorsports paced Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series test session.
Chase Elliott paced the three-car JRM train at 187.993 mph, with his father at 187.974 mph and Smith at 187.950 mph.
Nationwide teams spent considerably more time in drafting practice than their Sprint Cup counterparts had done a day earlier. The largest pack in Saturday's action included nine cars.