DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Regan Smith’s memories of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona are much more pleasant this season.
The view from Victory Lane usually is.
Smith battled side-by-side with Brad Keselowski coming off Turn 4 on the final lap and nipped Keselowski by 0.013 seconds in a two-lap overtime to win Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
One year ago at this race, Smith was in a similar position and his block of Keselowski on the last lap triggered a multi-car wreck that sent debris into the grandstands and injured two dozen race fans.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to get the win working the outside on that restart,” said Smith, who earned his fourth series victory and first at Daytona.
“I caught a couple of bumps at the right time from (Trevor Bayne); I need to thank him for that. He could have easily pulled out and it would have been chaos out there. It easily could have been six inches the other way and Brad wins the race.”
As it was, Smith’s margin of victory was the second closest in Daytona history since the advent of electronic scoring and the seventh closest in series history.
Smith’s team co-owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., said he felt Smith was “hurt deeply” by his involvement in the last-lap crash last season.
“I know it has weighed on his mind heavily,” he said.
Smith said last season’s finish was “a tough pill to swallow.”
“Nobody felt worse than me on Sunday morning or on Saturday night,” he said. “I’m just glad everything turned out all right.”
Bayne finished third, Kyle Busch was fourth and Elliott Sadler was fourth.
“We were really close, just came up a bit short,” said Keselowski. “Regan ran a great race, got a great draft there at the end.
“We fought real hard and we had a great car and it takes a good car to work (on the top lane). At the end, on that last restart, we just didn’t have quite enough.”
The race was the first in the series since NASCAR mandated the end of tandem drafting and prohibited teams from “locking bumpers” and riding around the track. Only one driver was penalized for the act in Saturday’s race – James Buescher.
“It felt like bumping – I don’t know,” Buescher said. “As far as I’m concerned there was only bouncing, never locked the bumper. We had been bouncing off of everybody’s bumpers all day and everybody had.”
The race was slowed five times covering 20 of the 121 laps.
After most cars had taken the checkered flag, Earnhardt slammed into the back of Kyle Larson, which sent several cars into the wall and infield grass. Earnhardt took responsibility for the crash.
“I just wasn’t paying attention,” Earnhardt said. “He slowed up a lot quicker than I thought he would.” Earnhardt offered to pay for new bodies to be put on the damaged cars.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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