DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One year after seeing an apparent victory end in one of the worst crashes in Daytona history, Regan Smith was finally able to see the checkered flag at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Smith used the high-line to nip Brad Keselowski by a fender and win Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Smith defied the odds by using the outside lane to win the race after the driver in the low lane dominated most of the event.
But in the end it was the high line that was the path to victory for Smith, who defeated Keselowski by just .013 of a second.
Keselowski was in front of Kyle Busch and Smith was in the outside lane when the green flag waved for the green-white-checkered finish. Busch was boxed in behind Keselowski, who attempted to bump draft Keselowski past Smith as the field made it to the white flag.
On the final lap Smith stayed high, nudging just ahead of Keselowski on the backstretch. He was able to carry the momentum around to the front stretch and into victory lane.
Smith nearly won last year’s Nationwide race that ended in the horrific crash that sent spectators to the hospital last year.
“We never lost the focus,” Smith said after scoring his fourth Nationwide victory. “We’ve had the same focus all along. It’s good to come out of the box strong like this. This is Daytona. This is tough to win here. I thought I had won last year but didn’t get the win. I’m getting tongue-tied. This is exciting.
“This is Daytona; a good start to the year. After last year but happened at the start/finish line I felt terrible. I’m glad everyone came back ok. I’m glad to see the checkered flag at Daytona rather than cause the big wreck. It’s going to be a big year.”
Keselowski lost the race by the narrowest of margins.
“There is nothing you can really do except hold it down,” Keselowski said. “You couldn’t do it without a push and Regan got a better push than me. I thought the racing today with the spoiler changes is tougher than the tandem rule but it is what it is.”
Trevor Bayne was third in a Ford followed by Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler.
“You’re playing with fire and nitrous oxide at the same time and trying not to create a big explosion at the end,” Busch said. “The outside lane was very aggressive and I was stuck at the bottom. I tried to get our lane moving to open up a spot for me to go and it just didn’t happen.”
Earnhardt was attempting to tie his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, and Tony Stewart with a seventh Nationwide Series win at Daytona. He didn’t win the race but he was the winning car owner.
“I’m just happy for Regan and this is a great boost for our company,” Earnhardt said. “We are heading in the right direction and this can be a big year for us as well. We are making good changes and it will work out for everybody. I’m glad Regan and Ryan Pemberton (crew chief) are hitting it off very well. It’s going to work out. This is the first time I’ve come down here and had three cars rolling at the end of the race.”