After wrecking out coming to the checkered flag last year, Regan Smith would edge out Brad Keselowski to pick up the victory in the DRIVE4COPD 300.
“We never lost the focus,” Smith said in victory lane. “This team – this company – we’ve had the same focus all along. It’s good to come out of the box strong. This is Daytona. It’s tough to win here. I thought we had one last year and it didn’t quite happen. This thing was fast. Once I got up there, I was able to take all those shots and get out there. I’m excited. I’m pumped here.”
On a restart with 17 laps to go after a caution due to Ryan Sieg’s spin, Brad Keselowski grabbed the lead from Regan Smith with help from Trevor Bayne and was able to slide down to the bottom line. As the leaders were setting themselves up for the dash for the checkered, a caution would fly with four to go for Chad Boat spinning, setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Keselowski opted for the bottom lane with Kyle Busch behind him, putting Regan Smith to the top line with Bayne in toe.
The final two laps saw the pair run side-by-side as Smith continued to side-draft off of Keselowski. As they came to the tri-oval, Bayne gave Smith a shot which allowed Smith to grab the win by 0.013 seconds ahead of Keselowski.
Last year, Keselowski and Smith were racing for the win, when contact was made – resulting in both cars wrecked and fans hurt in the stands when Kyle Larson’s car got in the catch fence.
“Its a situation that you can’t change,” Smith commented. “You just got to be glad that everybody was able to come back and be okay. I wanted to be able to cross the finish line properly. This is two years in the making. This is great. I got to thank Trevor there for sticking with me. I was able to side draft Brad at the right time and stall him out there.”
Smith’s car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said it was nice to see Smith win after coming so close last year.
“To come down to Daytona, it’s a big race and I’m happy for Regan,” he said. “He was down about losing last year’s race and it’s nice to see him win it. it’s certainly a boost for the company.”
Keselowski, meanwhile, would have to settle for second.
“There’s not really you can do except is hold it down and that’s what we did,” Keselowski said. “The push that Trevor gave Kyle was stronger than the one that I got from Trevor and he was able to get out ahead.”
Trevor Bayne would come home third in his Mustang as he looks for the championship this season.
“Well most of the day we spent trying to get to the front. We got our car to the front when it mattered,” Bayne commented. “I saw the 99 got blackflagged for pushing too long so I knew there was a limit. I was able to get up there and got behind the 7 and pushed him to the lead and tried to split the middle to try the win – but came up a little short. Still an awesome way to finish it.”
Last night’s truck race winner Kyle Busch finished fourth, followed by teammate Elliott Sadler.
“I think the 3 (Ty Dillon) fell off my rear bumper so I think the line started to break-up there,” Busch commented. “It was an interesting race certainly the last 10 laps. These guys brought a good car here and I led the most laps. certainly you’d want to be in victory lane but there’s bigger fish to fry.”
Brendan Gaughan finished sixth, followed by his Richard Childress Racing teammate Ty Dillon. Dillon was the highest finishing rookie in the race and had to fight his way through the field after a pit road speeding penalty.
“We were able to rally and get back through the field without getting into trouble,” he said. “It’s pretty cool racing without the tandem because yu can move around and be aggressive, but yet also take care of your car at the end. We’re going to have a great year this year. we’re going to battle for a championship this year. happy to get a good finish in Daytona.”
Fellow rookie and pole sitter Dylan Kwasniewski finished eighth after falling back early in the race.
“We just kept plugging away,” he commented. “I screwed up on a couple of pit stops but I’ll learn from that. I learned a lot for sure and we’ll take it into Phoenix and run strong.”
Ryan Sieg and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10, followed by Earnhardt Jr., Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth, Mike Wallace and Chase Elliott.
While the entire race ran without a big wreck, there was one after the checkered flag after Earnhardt Jr. got into the back of Larson. The result was heavy damage for Larson, along with Nemechek and Ryan Reed. Buescher also got a piece of the wreck, as well.
“It was after the finish line and I ran into the back of the 42,” Earnhardti said. “I didn’t expect for them to slow down that fast. I feel bad for them and tearing up the bodies there for Larson and Nemechek. I’ll step up and put a body on there for them.”
Reed would spend some extra time in the care center after the race as the Type 1 diabetic is suffering from the stomach flu.
One of hte discussions that a lot of people are talking about after the race is the “no tandem drafting” rule, which came into play when James Buescher was penalized with 35 laps to go.
“I never locked bumpers,” Buescher said over his radio.” There’s a camera on that 22 car. I never locked bumpers. We’re gonna talk about it after the race.”
When ESPN re-showed Buescher working with Keselowski, it looked as if Buescher was “bopping” Keselowski, which is the art of repeatedly hitting the rear of the car in front of you.
“You’re mixing fire and nitrous oxide there trying to not cause a big bomb and get penalized,” Busch commented in how drivers were pushing the boundaries throughout the race.
Busecher was credited with a 16th place finish.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series teams will now shift their focus to Phoenix International Raceway for next weekend’s event.