- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Regan Smith will race for the Nationwide Series championship next season driving for JR Motorsports.

Smith will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet, and will make his debut next month in the season finale at Homestead as a third entry alongside Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt.

“Regan has always impressed me,” said team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “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 has been looking for a job since he was let go from his Sprint Cup Series ride with Furniture Row Racing following the Oct. 7 race at Talladega. He spent the last two weeks filling in for Earnhardt at Hendrick Motorsports while Earnhardt sat out with a concussion.

He’ll share Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet with AJ Allmendinger for the final month of the Sprint Cup season, with Allmendinger driving the next two weeks and Smith closing out the season at Phoenix and Homestead.

“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. I was glad to fill in for Dale Jr., and I’m happy that he’s back in his race car this week at Martinsville.”

Wednesday’s announced ride with JRM is the only full-time job Smith has lined up for 2013.

“This is an extremely good opportunity for me,” Smith said. “Dale Jr. and I first started talking about this several years ago, but the timing never matched up to where we could make it happen. Now it’s time. I’m happy to be a part of this organization. I don’t want to just win races. I want to be the team that dominates races and contends for the championship.”

Smith won rookie of the year in Cup in 2008 when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. His only career Cup win came in 2011, when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway driving for Furniture Row.

Smith hasn’t raced in the Nationwide Series since 2007.

JRM didn’t announce a sponsor for Smith. The team would like to run two cars in 2013 and bring back Whitt, but only has Smith’s entry cemented, general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller said.

Earnhardt is scheduled to run a select number of Nationwide races in the No. 88 for JRM.

“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. “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. To do that, we are making our No. 5 Chevrolet our full-time entry.

“We hope to have Cole in the No. 7 full time in 2013, and we are working hard on securing sponsorship for that.”

JRM recently overhauled the organization by releasing crew chief Tony Eury Jr., and his father, competition director Tony Eury Sr.

The moves were made as Earnhardt and his sister evaluated performance and decided the organization needed to go in a direction that differed from the Eurys’ approach.

Eury Jr. is their cousin, and Eury Sr. is their uncle, and Eury Jr. was Earnhardt’s crew chief for many years at the Sprint Cup level.

The team has hired Ryan Pemberton has competition director.

JRM has won nine Nationwide races, but none since Jamie McMurray’s win at Atlanta in 2010.