DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Regan Smith got “redemption,” edging out Brad Keselowski by .013 seconds for the green-white-checkered win in Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. The margin of victory is the second-closest in NASCAR Nationwide Series history at Daytona.
Smith’s average finish of 20th-place in his previous 28 starts at the “World Center of Racing” are not indicative of the way he has run on the storied 2.5-mile tri-oval. Smith displayed his superspeedway prowess, keeping the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at the front of the pack for 35 of the extended 121 laps.
“This is Daytona – it’s tough to win here,” Smith said from Gatorade Victory Lane. “I thought we had it last year and it didn’t quite happen. I’m excited! I’m getting tongue-tied here.
“(The win) means a lot – it’s Daytona. It’s a good start to the year. After last year, what happened at the start/finish line, I felt terrible. It’s a situation where you can’t change it. I wanted to see the checkered flag in a proper manner at Daytona and not in the middle of the wreck.”
Mirroring their positions in the DRIVE4COPD 300 last season, Keselowski and Smith ran 1-2 as the laps dwindled down. In last year’s race, Smith was the one out front on the final lap. This year, it was Keselowski out front after taking over the lead with 10 laps to go. On the white-flag lap, Smith made a run on the outside through Turn 2 and the two cars raced side-by-side around the track. Smith received an assist from 2011 DAYTONA 500 champion Trevor Bayne, giving him the push he needed for the win.
“At the beginning (of the race), I made a move to go three-wide thinking the top was going to work today like it normally does, and got hung up behind somebody,” Smith said. “It broke our momentum and we ended up in 40th before I even blinked. We had to work hard all day long to get our position back to get back to the front.
“The 6 car certainly played a big part in us winning with Trevor back there bump drafting. He stuck with me and I don’t know how it would have worked out if he had tried to pull out and gone three-wide.”
“We were able to push the 22 to the front,” said Bayne who finished third. “I was hoping somebody could figure out how to push me like that so we could get to the front, but it didn’t happen. The 7 (Smith) got in front of us and we pushed him to the lead and tried to go through the middle at the end to get the win, but at the end of the day, a third-place finish at Daytona is a really good day.”
Five of the drivers in Saturday’s race participated in Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series contest and 10 drivers in the field will be participating in Sunday’s 56th annual DAYTONA 500. Kyle Busch, who is racing in all three series during Budweiser Speedweeks, darted from his fourth-place starting position to take the lead from pole sitter Dylan Kwasniewski on the first lap. Busch went on to lead a race-high 44 laps and finished fourth. Ty Dillon, brother of DAYTONA 500 pole-sitter Austin Dillon, was the highest-finishing rookie, driving the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet to home in seventh.
Six drivers exchanged the lead nine times and the race was slowed five times for 20 laps.
Tickets for NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race – the 56th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23 – start at $65 and are available at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
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