Smith beats Keselowski in photo finish
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.
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.”
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