Since driving for JRM, Smith has recorded three top-10 finishes in four restrictor-plate races. He has led a total of 66 laps in those events and earned an average finish of 6.0. Smith placed eighth and 14th in last year's races at Daytona.
"I enjoy coming to Daytona and Talladega," Smith said. "I don't come to these places, thinking, 'Oh, man, we got to go draft and we got to be in a big pack.' I look at it as a challenge. I look at it as mentally I got to do things differently this weekend and I've got to be one move ahead of my competitors. I have to be thinking that far down the road before it happens, and I like that. I like that style of racing where you're constantly thinking."
Nationwide is at Talladega this weekend for its ninth race of the season. The 117-lap, 311-mile race here is scheduled for Saturday. Qualifying is slated for Friday evening.
Teams practiced on Thursday, with Trevor Bayne from Roush Fenway Racing posting the fastest overall lap at 190.378 mph. Smith's best lap in the first practice session was clocked at 184.590 mph, putting him 18th on the charts. Smith did not participate in the second and final session.
"The steering was a little quicker than I wanted to start out, but we made a steering box change, and it was a lot better," Smith said. "We were able to run with [JRM teammates] Kasey [Kahne] and Chase [Elliott] there, and I felt like all three of our cars were pretty equal."
In last year's Nationwide race at Talladega, Smith charged from eighth to first during a frantic last-lap around this 2.66-mile speedway. After pushing help from Kahne, Smith drove down the track and then passed several cars in the tri-oval area. He pulled ahead of Joey Logano by just inches for the lead when NASCAR officials displayed the caution flag for a major crash involving seven cars that occurred on the frontstretch.
It was the second career win in the series for Smith.
"Winning this race last year was certainly thrilling for me, especially the way it ended and going from about eighth place to first on the final lap," he said. "Obviously, there was chaos at the end, but it was exciting. It will always be one of my favorite moments when I look back."
The start of last year's race at Talladega was delayed more than three hours due to rain. It began at 5:18 p.m. local time, but NASCAR informed teams in the closing stages that it would be trimmed by 10 laps due to darkness approaching.
Smith enters this race second in the drivers' standings. He is 19 points behind Elliott, who is a rookie this season. Elliott won at Texas and Darlington before finishing second to Kevin Harvick in last Friday's race at Richmond. Harvick gave JRM its fourth victory of the season.
"It's pretty cool to see that we have separate teams that have won races and run up front," Smith said. "We've had a level of success so far this season."
Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Saturday, May 3. Race: Aaron's 312. Site: Talladega Superspeedway. Track: 2.66-mile oval. Start time: 3 p.m. ET. Laps: 117. Miles: 311.22. 2013 Winner: Regan Smith. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.