A four-hour tour around the Texas Motor Speedway turned into a four-day event for Ligonier native, and NASCAR Cup driver, Garrett Smithley.
The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 started on Sunday and finished Wednesday evening near Fort Worth, Texas.
“It was a very long race, even though we split it up to run 52 laps and did the remaining part of the race to complete the 500-miles on Wednesday,” Smithley said.
Smithley drove the No. 53 Victory Lane Quick Oil Change Ford Mustang, and he had to start at the rear of the field because of an unapproved adjustment. Smithley finished 31st.
“Scheduled to start 38th, but we had to change a mirror, which isn’t allowed by NASCAR rules,” Smithley said.
While the box score shows Smithley ended nine laps behind the leader, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Raw speed of the leaders is what put us behind,” Smithley said. “These are racing laps and not laps in the garage. We kept pace with the No. 15 quite a bit throughout the race. It was a very long race, it’s 500-miles, and when you get green flag runs like that, you can’t do anything about the leaders being so fast.”
Smithley added though, that, for the most part — and for most of the day — he was almost within a second of the leader’s time, which shows improvement on his team’s side.
“We kept pace with the No. 15 for the whole first stage... we were right on his bumper for the first stage, and the No. 15 has a better motor and is the number one car out of our shop,” Smithley said. “It’s encouraging as a driver who has been out of a Cup car for a few weeks.”
“I was pretty happy to jump in, and the crew was happy, and all-in-all it was a solid weekend for us. We should have stayed out when there was weather on Sunday; we should have stayed out because we could have led the race for 72 hours. Who knew we were going to be rain-delayed for three days.”
“Obviously, hindsight is 20-20, and we didn’t know when the race was going to be resumed.”
With NASCAR teams forced to stay in hotels for four nights, Smithley had options. His sponsor, Trophy Tractor, offered accommodations, and there was family to stay with and help with the boredom in the rain with nothing to do. He even had enough clothes.
“I was one of the fortunate ones that had people in Texas,” Smithley said.
“I went down a little early on Friday to hang out with the people from Trophy Tractor. This was one of the few times that I overpacked. I had enough clothes that I didn’t have to go shopping like have of the garage did.”
Rick Ware Racing told Smithley on Thursday that he would be driving the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Camaro entry with sponsorship from 12secondculturebook.com and Rich Mar Florist.
“I was able to get Rich Mar Florist from Allentown to come on board to help with the tires,” Smithley said. “I am really excited to race at Martinsville because we had a good showing there last year.”
The XFINITY 500 will air, 2 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
Smithley said that at the final race of the season in Phoenix, he could be behind the wheel of the No. 7, instead of the No. 53, but still carrying sponsorship from Victory Lane Quick Oil Change.
(D.J. Johnson can be reached by email at DJ1360rpm@aol.com and on Twitter @DJJohnsonPIT)