With Regan Smith saying he almost certainly won’t return to the No. 78 Chevrolet next season, several underemployed Sprint Cup drivers suddenly have some hope. Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers, in particular, likely will be the leading candidates to replace Smith in the Furniture Row-sponsored car owned by Colorado businessman Barney Visser. And Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola and recently reinstated A.J. Allmendinger might also be players.
On Friday, Smith all but officially confirmed his departure after four mediocre years with the team. Despite being somewhat vague about it, his departure appears to be a done deal. “I’ve been told it appears I won’t be back here next year,” Smith told reporters at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I don’t believe I’ll be here. There’s a lot to it, is the best way I can put it. I’m happy here, and I like it here, but sometimes change isn’t bad, either.”
Talk in the Cup garage is that team general manager Joe Garone and Visser want Busch. He’s a former NASCAR champion with an undeniable record of on-track success (15 poles and 24 wins) and an equally undeniable record of off-track difficulties. Jack Roush fired him in 2005, the year after Busch won the Sprint Cup in the No. 97 Ford. After a series of high-profile, off-track incidents, Roger Penske fired him from the No. 22 Dodge after last season. With little else available, Busch has spent a frustrating 2012 in the underfunded No. 51 Chevrolet for owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing.