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Smith beats Keselowski in photo finish

by Pete McCole
Saturday, February 22, 2014

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Regan Smith celebrates
Mike Mercurio
After coming within just 100 yards of his first Daytona victory last year, Regan Smith wasn’t about to let another opportunity slip through his fingers.

Smith edged out Brad Keselowski by mere inches in a thrilling side-by-side, green-white-checker finish to take the victory in Saturday’s season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway and find redemption for a win that got away from him.

It was Smith’s fourth Nationwide Series victory in his 137th series start and his third driving the no. 7 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports.

“It still doesn't feel real.  It's a very special moment,” said Smith. “In the right place at the right time. The 6 car (Bayne) played a big part with us winning, with Trevor (Bayne) back there pushing, but he was basically bump-drafting.  That's all we can do now.  He stuck with me.

“I got just the right bump from the 6 car to where it sent me forward when I needed to.  At that point it was a drag race.

“I was kind of going to be happy with third or fourth, getting out of here with some good points to start the year with.  You never win a points race at Daytona, certainly.  But now we don't have to worry about that.  We got the win and we're going to enjoy this one.”

Trevor Bayne finished third sandwiched right in between Smith and Keselowski, while last night’s truck series winner Kyle Busch finished fourth. Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five.

It was just one year ago in this very race that Smith had the lead in the final lap and the checkered flag in sight when he got spun by Keselowski, touching off a terrifying wreck that saw Kyle Larson’s car getting tossed into the catch fence and torn in half, injuring several spectators.

“You know, last year was a tough pill to swallow,” said Smith. “Nobody felt worse than me on Sunday morning and Saturday night.  We were fortunate that all turned out well with all the fans and everything.

“To say I haven't thought about it this week at all would be a complete lie.  When I was out there actually racing, it was not in my mind at all.  I was focused on what my job was, and that was to make sure that the 7 car got back to the stripe first.”

Smith and Keselowski combined to lead the final 46 laps with Keselowski taking the lead away with 11 laps to go after getting a push from Trevor Bayne on the high side allowing him to drop in front of Smith.

Just four laps from the finish, Chad Boat and Eric McClure tangle in turn three to reset the field for a three-lap shootout to the finish.

Regan Smith beats Brad Keselowski and Trevor Bayne
Getty Images for NASCAR
Keselowski led the field to the green flag for the first attempt at a green-white-checker finish, with  Busch and Ty Dillon pushing him, while Smith restarted on the high side ahead of Bayne and Sadler.

Right from the green flag, the two packs ran nose to tail with Smith dropping as low as he could to side-draft off Keselowski, staying even for the entire three laps.

As the field came to the checkered flag, the pack started fanning out three wide, with Bayne trying to squeeze through the middle of Keselowski and Smith.

At the stripe, Smith had the momentum off the side draft to just barely pull ahead of Keselowski, making it to the line by just 0.013 second in the second-closest finish in series history.

“I thought we had a chance to pull it off quite honestly,” said Keselowski. “We cleared the 7 (Smith) on the restart and he got a really strong push from the 6 (Bayne) and that was too much for me to be able to hold off. Coming off of four we were all real tight there and Kyle (Busch) wasn’t able to stay with me and push and that was enough to get Regan the win. All in all it was decent day.”

Trevor Bayne’s third-place finish was his best Nationwide Series finish since his win at Iowa last June and his first top-five finish at Daytona since capturing his Cinderella win in the 2011 Daytona 500.

“Our car isn’t upside down, so that is a good day for us,” said Bayne. “We had a chance to make a move by pushing the 7 until I felt I could pull down without losing any spots. It was a little too late because the middle closed up. Overall, we are pleased with a third place finish.”

Brendan Gaughan Ty Dillon Dylan Kwasniewski Ryan Sieg and Larson made up the rest of the top ten finishers.

Amazingly, there was no carnage-filled crash before the field got to the finish, but after the finish, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., made contact with Larson, sending him and Joe Nemechek spinning and collecting Ryan Reed in the process.

Earnhardt, Jr. was apologetic after the race, and even offered to have Larson and Nemechek’s cars fixed at his race shop.

“Totally my fault,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “Really wasn't paying attention. We were slowing down.  I was looking all around trying to figure out where everybody was at.  Ran into the back of the 87 and 39. I hate it for Joe and those guys 'cause they don't need to be tearing up racecars.”

Results

Pos Car # Driver Make Start Laps Led Status
1 7 Regan Smith Chevrolet 19 121 35 Running
2 22 Brad Keselowski Ford 17 121 11 Running
3 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 31 121 0 Running
4 54 Kyle Busch Toyota 4 121 44 Running
5 11 Elliott Sadler Toyota 5 121 0 Running
6 62 Brendan Gaughan Chevrolet 27 121 0 Running
7 3 Ty Dillon Chevrolet 23 121 0 Running
8 31 Dylan Kwasniewski Chevrolet 1 121 0 Running
9 39 Ryan Sieg Chevrolet 29 121 0 Running
10 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 2 121 1 Running
11 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 16 121 28 Running
12 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota 24 121 0 Running
13 28 Mike Wallace Dodge 25 121 0 Running
14 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 6 121 0 Running
15 9 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 26 121 0 Running
16 99 James Buescher Toyota 14 121 0 Running
17 2 Brian Scott Chevrolet 20 121 0 Running
18 16 Ryan Reed Ford 39 121 0 Running
19 30 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 3 121 0 Running
20 19 Mike Bliss Toyota 12 121 0 Running
21 01 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 34 121 0 Running
22 44 Blake Koch Toyota 11 121 0 Running
23 43 Dakoda Armstrong Ford 30 121 0 Running
24 84 Chad Boat Chevrolet 40 121 0 Running
25 10 David Starr Toyota 10 121 0 Running
26 29 Scott Lagasse Jr Toyota 22 121 0 Running
27 55 Jamie Dick Chevrolet 7 121 2 Running
28 80 Johnny Sauter Toyota 9 120 0 Running
29 51 Jeremy Clements Chevrolet 33 120 0 Running
30 4 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevrolet 37 120 0 Running
31 00 Jason White Toyota 28 119 0 Running
32 52 Joey Gase Chevrolet 36 119 0 Running
33 85 Bobby Gerhart Chevrolet 18 118 0 Running
34 74 Mike Harmon Dodge 38 117 0 Running
35 14 Eric McClure Toyota 13 115 0 Accident
36 40 Josh Wise Chevrolet 32 114 0 Running
37 70 Derrike Cope Chevrolet 35 114 0 Running
38 23 Robert Richardson Chevrolet 21 12 0 Engine
39 24 Harrison Rhodes Toyota 15 8 0 Engine
40 91 Jeff Green Toyota 8 3 0 Vibration

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