JR Motorsports signs Regan Smith

Updated: October 25, 2012, 12:32 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Regan Smith didn't stay unemployed for long.

JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Smith will drive the No. 5 Nationwide Series car full time in 2013.

The move came less than a month after Kurt Busch replaced Smith in the Furniture Row Racing Sprint Cup car and less than a week after Smith finished a two-week stint as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s substitute driver in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Cup car.

Smith, who told ESPN.com on Tuesday he was negotiating with JRM, will make his debut for the team co-owned by Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick in the Nov. 17 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He also will be in the Phoenix Racing Sprint Cup car for the final two races at Phoenix and Homestead, and is a candidate to drive that car at least on a part-time schedule in 2013.

"Yeah, things got busy," Smith told ESPN.com. "You never know, when things go down (like being released), how things will play out. Certainly, going to JR Motorsports is something I'm extremely proud of. Dale and I, we talked two or three times over the last three years about this and the cards didn't match up.

"This time it all came together and I couldn't be more excited."

Smith said he doesn't consider it a step back going full time to NASCAR's second-tier series, where he hasn't raced since 2007.

"This gives me a chance to contend for race wins and championships," he said. "That's why we do all that we do. I love the Cup series. I love the grind of it. With that being said, this definitely is an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

Smith, 29, was the 2008 rookie of the year in Cup driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. His lone Cup win was a big one, holding off Carl Edwards in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Smith is winless in the Nationwide Series, with three top-5 finishes, five top-10s and a pole.

"Regan has always impressed me," Earnhardt said in a team release. "He gets the most of his car, no matter what he's driving or who he's driving for. He takes care of his cars and gets good finishes. With his experience and ability, we feel he can excel in our equipment.

"He has a super personality, and his ability to work with everyone here at JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports will be important in getting us back to the winner's circle."

Smith's No. 5 Chevrolet is the only JRM car currently guaranteed a full schedule in 2013. General manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said the goal is to run two full-time teams -- the No. 5 and the No. 7 -- with Earnhardt competing in select races in the No. 88.

Cole Whitt, seventh in points in the No. 88 this year, would move to the No. 7 if sponsorship can be found.

"We feel it is important for our sponsors, our fans, and even Dale to keep his Nationwide Series number consistent with his Cup number," Earnhardt Miller said of the change. "His brand is associated with the No. 88. That's what makes him distinguishable on the race track, so it's only natural that he drives the No. 88 all the time."

Earnhardt Miller did not mention whether Danica Patrick, who will move from her full-time Nationwide ride at JRM to a full-time Cup ride at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013, would drive any Nationwide races next season.

But she said earlier this year at Indianapolis that the hope was to have Patrick drive some.

Smith's name surfaced two weeks ago when Hendrick mentioned that Smith might drive full time for JRM when announcing he would replace Earnhardt, forced to miss the Charlotte and Kansas Cup races with a concussion.

A blown engine kept Smith from having a good run at Charlotte. He bounced back with a seventh at Kansas.

Earnhardt was cleared medically to return this week at Martinsville Speedway.

"It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, but it's been great," Smith said. "Filling in for Dale Jr. was an honor, and it got me acclimated to the Hendrick Motorsports group, which obviously JR Motorsports works with hand in hand."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter