Regan Smith’s 2014 trip to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway ended on a much higher note than his trip to the track a year ago. On Saturday, Smith inched ahead of Brad Keselowski at the start/finish line on the final lap of the DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener to take the win by a margin of 0.013 seconds over Keselowski.
“It’s good to come out strong out of the box,” Smith said in victory lane. “This is Daytona; it’s hard to win here.”
Smith came close to winning at Daytona a year ago. He was leading as the race field approached the checkered flag, but a multi-car wreck that sent debris into the grandstands and injured several fans also resulted in a 14-th place finish for Smith.
“Last year, after what happened at the start/finish line, I felt terrible,” Smith said.
On Saturday, the fifth caution of the race came out with four laps remaining of the scheduled 120-lap distance, resulting in a two-lap, green-white-checker sprint for the win with Keselowski and Smith running first and second. The two raced side-by-side in the closing laps, with Keselowski in front of Kyle Busch and the inside line and Smith on the outside with Trevor Bayne behind him. A bump from Bayne at the end was just what Smith needed to inch out the win.
Bayne finished third, Busch was fourth, and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five.
Busch took the lead on the first lap of the race and was a mainstay at or near the front for the remainder of the event. He lost the lead to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap nine when Earnhardt elected to stay out under caution while almost everyone else pitted for fuel. Earnhardt was able to stay up front until having to head down pit road before everyone else on lap 43. After a stop of over 19 seconds, Earnhardt fell off the lead lap — a lap he would get back when everyone else cycled through green-flag stops about 10 laps later.
After Earnhardt’s stop, Busch re-inherited the lead and stayed up front until Ty Dillon beat him off pit road during a caution with just under 50 laps remaining. Busch was back in the lead for the restart, though, as Dillon had to return to pit road to serve a speeding penalty.
Soon after the restart, Smith took the lead for the first time in the race. With 11 laps to go, Keselowski, who had been leading the outside line of cars for much of the race, was able to pull in front of Smith to take the lead.
As Smith and Keselowski raced for the win, several cars wrecked behind them on the final lap. That wreck collected the cars of Ryan Reed and Joe Nemechek after Dale Earnhardt Jr made contact with the car of Kyle Larson. After the race, Earnhardt offered to pay for repairs to the damaged cars.
Brendan Gaughan finished the race in the sixth spot, Dillon was seventh, pole sitter Dylan Kwasniewski eighth, Ryan Sieg ninth and Larson 10th.
But first, check out this photo gallery of images for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):