Smith Strikes First in Nationwide
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on February 22, 2014 | 3:46 P.M. EST
Regan Smith celebrates his fourth career win in 137 races. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Regan Smith outraced the field in an overtime finish to win Saturday's DRIVE 4COPD 300 Nationwide Series at Daytona International Speedway.
Smith was able to race his way around to the front of the field in the two-lap dash to the checkered flag and stayed in front of Brad Keselowski to pick-up the win in the series’ season-opening race.
Smith’s JR Motorsports Camaro was .013-seconds ahead of Keselowski’s Team Penske Mustang, the seventh-closest all-time in series history and the second closest in Daytona Nationwide racing.
It was redemption for Smith after last year’s race, which he was leading on the final lap until he tried to block Keselowski’s move to win the race only to trigger a 12-car crash that injured several fans in the grandstands.
“After last season with what happened at the finish line, I felt terrible,” Smith said. “I wanted to see the checkered flag in the right way. It’s going to be a good year.
“We never lost the focus. We’ve had the same focus all along. It’s good to come out of the box strong like this. This is Daytona. This is tough to win here. I thought I had won last year but didn’t get the win. I’m getting tongue-tied. This is exciting.”
The win was Smith’s fourth in 137 career starts.
“It’s good to come out of the blocks strong like this,” Smith said. “This is Daytona, it’s always tough to win here. We were close last year but it didn’t happen.”
Keselowski was frustrated he wasn’t able to get past Smith but that last year’s finish was not on his mind.
“No, not really, maybe it should have. I’m not that smart, I have a terrible memory,” Keselowski said. “I’m glad there wasn’t an aftermath again.”
Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five.
“It was a fast race car,” said Busch, who was trying to follow up his Camping World Truck Series win Friday night with another victory. “I thought we were pretty good leading the bottom there much of the day and I think led the most laps. Certainly would be nice to end up in victory lane here and have a chance to go after a sweep for the weekend, but bigger fish to fry tomorrow and we’ll see how all of that plays out.”
Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Sieg and Kyle Larson completed the first ten finishers.
The race was the first for the series under NASCAR’s new rule forbidding tandem drafting. Drivers were allowed to touch one another but not to lock bumpers.
Officials made one such call against James Buescher, who was black-flagged despite vehemently denying he ran afoul of the policy.
“It felt like bumping,” said Buescher. "I don’t know -- when they made the rule at the test NASCAR said no locking of bumpers front or rear. I talked to Wayne Auton (NNS series director) and Robin Pemberton (vice president of competition for NASCAR) in their office just for clarification of what exactly we could do. They said if you bounce off the car in front of you there’s no call.
“As far as I’m concerned there was only bouncing, never locked the bumper. I haven’t seen a replay so I don’t know what exactly they’re saying was the time that I got called on.”
Buescher was able to race back to a 16th-place finish.
Despite the close competition that sometimes saw both two and three-wide racing, there were no multi-car accidents until after the checkered flag flew.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with Kyle Larson as the field came through turns one and two subsequently collecting Ryan Reed and Joe Nemechek in the melee.
Earnhardt, who apologized to those involved in the accident and vowed to help repair their cars, celebrated Smith’s victory as the team co-owner of JR Motorsports.
“I’m just happy for Regan and this is a great boost for our company,” Earnhardt said. “We are heading in the right direction and this can be a big year for us as well. We are making good changes and it will work out for everybody. I’m glad Regan and Ryan Pemberton (crew chief) are hitting it off very well. It’s going to work out. This is the first time I’ve come down here and had three cars rolling at the end of the race.”
There were nine lead changes among eight different drivers. Smith’s average winning speed was 148.204 mph in the race that saw five cautions for twenty laps.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series now heads to Phoenix International Raceway next Saturday.
Photos: Jeff Wackerlin