Regan Smith roars to Nationwide win at Daytona
February 22, 2014, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Regan Smith got the bump-drafting help he needed from Trevor Bayne and beat Brad Keselowski to the finish line by .013 seconds to win Saturday's season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
In a race that went one lap beyond its posted distance of 120 laps because of a late caution involving Chad Boat and Eric McClure, Smith got help from Bayne in the outside lane and arrived at the stripe in his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet less than three feet ahead of Keselowski, who was drafting with fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch.
Bayne ran third, as he and Smith side-drafted Keselowski and Busch in the inside lane just enough to give Smith a miniscule advantage.
The victory, Smith's fourth in the series and his first at Daytona, was a race of redemption for the 30-year-old driver, who was right in the middle of the last-lap crash in the 2013 season opener.
At dinner with team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. the evening of the wreck, Smith got a pep talk, but the memory of the crash and its aftermath lingered.
"I'm fortunate that I've got a boss who's been in a lot of situations in the sport and understands a lot of different things over the years in Dale," Smith said. "We went to dinner Saturday night -- we were both getting ready to run the 500 on Sunday…
"He just basically said, 'You've got to shake it off. It's racing. It's no fault of anybody's. Things happen. Circumstances sometimes happen.' He offered up a lot of good advice through that situation. And it did bother me. I'd be lying if I said it didn't."
Smith, however, didn't allow the memories to intrude on the final lap as he was making the decisive run to the checkers.
Keselowski and Busch couldn't make enough headway in the inside lane to counteract the efforts of Smith and Bayne up top, as drivers tested the limits of NASCAR's edict against push-drafting, a ban communicated to NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers during Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona in January.
"We kind of got boxed in there late," Busch said. "The 7 had a good run on the outside with the 6 (Bayne) pushing him. Me and Brad were trying to get going on the bottom, and the 7 was holding us so tight I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time through the corners. He was really on us pretty tight there.
"It was interesting the way the lap played out and how much bumping was going on and what you could do and how far was too far -- you're essentially playing with fire."
Keselowski offered a similar perspective.
"We cleared the 7 on the restart, and he got a really strong push from the 6 and that was too much for me to be able to hold off," Keselowski said. "Coming off of (Turn) 4, we were all real tight there, and Kyle wasn't able to stay with me and push, and that was enough to get Regan the win."
Saturday's race saw the first enforcement in a points event of the "no-pushing" rule. In the sanctioning body's view, James Buescher was bump-drafting too aggressively and was hit with a pass-through penalty that cost him a top-10 running position
Buescher, however, made up the lost ground after NASCAR called the third caution on Lap 94 because of debris on the backstretch. He finished 16th.
After the field took the checkered flag Earnhardt triggered a multi-car wreck by turning the No. 42 Chevrolet of 10th-place Kyle Larson. In typical fashion, Earnhardt offered no excuses.
"We were coming to the finish line," Earnhardt explained. "The 42 (Larson) was shoving me pretty good. I really didn't have anywhere to go. I got down on the apron. I was trying not to come back up on the race track, get quarter-paneled, have a big wreck there.
"We were slowing down. I was looking all around trying to figure out where everybody was at. Ran into the back of the 87 (Joe Nemechek) and 39 (Ryan Sieg). Totally my fault. Really wasn't paying attention. I hate it for Joe and those guys 'cause they don't need to be tearing up race cars."
Notes: The finish was the seventh closest in NASCAR Nationwide Series history and second closest at Daytona. The closest finish at the 2.5-mile superspeedway was Tony Stewart's victory by .007 seconds in 2011… Rookie polesitter Dylan Kwasniewski ran eighth in his Daytona debut.