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Sprint Cup return for Regan Smith: Will drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing

NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 - Qualifying

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Regan Smith, driver of the #7 Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

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Hours after it was revealed that Alex Bowman would not return to drive for them in 2016, Tommy Baldwin Racing announced Thursday that it has signed Regan Smith to drive its No. 7 Toy State/Nikko RC Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series this season.

The announcement was revealed on Dave Moody’s SiriusXM Speedway show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“I’m excited to get to work for Tommy Baldwin Racing,” Smith told Moody. “I can’t tell you how blessed I am. Man, I’m just ready to get to work. ... We’re both racers, so we’re going to work pretty damned hard.”

The deal came together in just two days, Smith told Moody. Baldwin called Smith on Tuesday, a deal was essentially struck Wednesday and was finalized Thursday.

“It’s been a whirlwind last couple of days,” Smith told Moody. “I literally just found out. It’s been a wild few days for me.

“It was one of those situations where you have to catch your breath, pinch yourself and say, ‘Man, is this real? What’s going on here?’ I’ve pinched myself a few times. It is real and I’m pretty pumped about it.”

Smith returns to the Sprint Cup Series after a three-year stint in the Xfinity Series. His last fulltime season in Sprint Cup was 2012 with Furniture Row Racing before he was replaced by Kurt Busch with six races left in the season.

He spent the last three seasons driving for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, and proved to be a big success, finishing third in 2013, second in 2014 and fourth in 2015. Even so, JRM chose not to renew his contract for 2016. Smith earned all six of his Xfinity Series wins with JRM, including a one-off appearance in 2012.

In a sense, Bowman and Smith are trading places in a way. While Smith replaces Bowman at TBR, Bowman will drive at least nine races for JRM in the team’s “all-star” car in the Xfinity Series, sharing the ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott.

Smith will drive the No. 7 for TBR, the same number he drove for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Tommy Baldwin Racing announced just last month a multi-year sponsorship extension with Toy State and Nikko RC, with Bowman slated to be the driver for a second straight season in 2016.

“It just seemed like a good fit,” Smith told Moody of his decision to go with TBR. “Tommy (Baldwin Jr.) is someone I’ve had a lot of respect for and have for a number of years. I’ve watched what he’s built with Tommy Baldwin Racing, it’s a group that works hard and they pour every ounce of everything they have into their race cars -- and they’re going to get nothing less than that from me when I sit in the race cars every week.”

Smith, who has one career win in the Sprint Cup Series, ran 4 races in the series in 2015 as a fill-in driver, driving the first three races of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing in place of the suspended Kurt Busch, and one race for Chip Ganassi Racing, filling in after Kyle Larson passed out the day before and was hospitalized for tests and observation.

“My experience is going to be one thing for certain,” Smith said when Moody asked what he brings to TBR. “There’s no racetracks we go to that I feel like I have to go out and re-learn it or see something I haven’t seen before. The experience is going to be a big factor and the ability to communicate with Tommy is something we’re going to lean on heavily.”

Here are more comments from Smith to Moody:

--- “I feel like I’m at the prime of my career. I feel I’ve worked hard to learn these race cars and these racetracks. Now that I have that confidence as a driver, I didn’t want to lose that.”

--- “It happened quick. I’ve never had anything happen like this. Three weeks before (Daytona), I didn’t think that was possible. I’m still kind of in awe right now.”

--- “It’s terrifying when you’re that close to the start of a season and you don’t have something lined up, it’s a very scary situation. Racing is my livelihood. That’s what I do for a living. The reality was starting to set in for me that I might have to pursue other interests and do other things. I wasn’t ready for that to happen to me yet. I’m only 32, so I’m relatively young.”

--- “I can learn how to drive a nail with a hammer, maybe. I definitely had to think about that a lot. It’s something that was a question in my head. I told myself and my wife that this is what I like to do, I’m still young enough to do it, and I’m going to figure out whatever I have to do to drive a race car. I really questioned if that was going to be the case, as recently as Monday, having those questions in my head and what was going to take place.”

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