Saturday's DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway actually finished with a margin closer than the Truck Series race last night. It was Regan Smith who just barely beat out Brad Keselowski at the checkered flag by 0.013 seconds.
The finish was a green-white-checkered two lap dash where Keselowski led the inside line with Kyle Busch behind him and Smith leading the outside line with Trevor Bayne behind him. The two lines ran very close together for all two laps and it was Bayne who gave Smith enough of a bump into the tri-oval to allow Smith to pick up his fourth career Nationwide Series win.
It was redemption for Smith in the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet who led coming to the tri-oval in last seasons race but wrecked while trying to protect his lead.
"This is Daytona," Smith exclaimed in victory lane. "It's tough to win here! I thought we had one last year but it did not quite happen last year. This thing was fast. Once I got out front I was able to stay up there and take a push from guys."
Brad Keselowski finished a very close second with Trevor Bayne third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Elliott Sadler fifth.
The race scheduled for 120 laps started with 18-year-old rookie Dylan Kwasniewski on the pole but it was the experience of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers that overmatched him on the opening circuit. Kyle Busch drafted to the lead with teammates Elliott Sadler and Matt Kenseth in tow.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series had to adjust to a new rule where push drafting was not allowed anymore and only bump drafting was legal. If NASCAR deemed a team was locked to another cars rear bumper too long they would black flag them for a pass through penalty.
The first caution of the race came out on lap 8 when Harrison Rhodes had an engine expire on his No. 24 Toyota. He finished 39th of the 40 cars. Jeff Green finished last after starting-and-parking in his No. 91 Toyota. Jason White also spun in the No. 00 car in the smoke of the engine expiring but he did not hit anything and ended up with a 31st place finish.
All the drivers except for Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jamie Dick made pit stops under the caution. On pit road Matt Kenseth slammed into the car of Chad Boat when he tried to leave his pit box and had to pit a second time to fix the damage to the right-front of his No. 20 Toyota and he restarted in 35th on lap 15.
By lap 20 Earnhardt led the field over Busch, Sadler, Dick, and Kwasniewski. Things stayed the same with the inside line dominating and the outside line struggling to make ground. At lap 39 DIck pitted from fourth but he was slapped with a speeding penalty entering pit road. DIck ended up finishing as the last lead lap car in 27th. Earnhardt Jr gave up the lead to pit on lap 42 which left the top five running order on the track Busch, Sadler, Kwasniewski, Ty Dillon, and Kyle Larson.
On lap 52 a group of cars including Larson pitted and then on lap 53 everyone else including Busch and Sadler made their pit stops. On lap 55 Busch drafted by Larson to regain the lead with help from the line of Dillon, Sadler, Chase Elliott, Johnny Sauter, and Regan Smith.
The second caution flew at lap 71 when some of the SAFER barrier had the foam portion come lose in Turn 2. Ty Dillon exited pit road with the lead but was tagged for speeding so he had to restart in the back. That gave the lead to Kyle Busch for the lap 76 restart. It was Regan Smith though who was able to get a bump from Brad Keselowski and overtake Busch on the high side to lead lap 76 and then pull down in front of Busch.
He continued to lead the bottom line with Busch, Sadler, Larson and Elliott behind him. Meanwhile Brad Keselowski was trying to make the outside line work with bumps from James Buescher but before lap 90 NASCAR penalized Buescher for what they deemed to be push drafting. Replays showed that it was a very bad call on NASCAR's part as Buescher was bumping and getting off the back of Keselowski the whole way down the backstretch. It was nothing that wasn't being done all race to that point and also all race after.
Luckily for Buescher the third caution came out on lap 93 for debris on the backstretch before the leaders where able to lap the No. 99 Toyota after his penalty.
The leaders stayed on the track instead of pitting which would have given themselves insurance on fuel to the finish and Smith led the cars back for the lap 98 restart. He still led when the fourth caution flew on lap 100 when Ryan Sieg cut across the nose of Eric McClure in the tri-oavl and spun. Sieg hit into the side of Jamie Dick's car but Dick did a good job of not also spinning to create a bigger crash. Sieg's crew did a good job of repairing his damage and keeping him on the lead lap.
The race restarted on lap 104 and Smith got out ahead of Busch and Sadler with Brad Keselowski trying to work the outside with Trevor Bayne. Bayne was able to bump Keselowski's No. 22 Ford to the lead on lap 110 and then Keselowski pulled to the bottom in front of Smith.
With five laps to go in the scheduled distance on lap 116 the fifth caution flew when Chad Boat and Eric McClure made contact entering Turn 3. McClure would nose into the outside wall and he finished in 35th. Boat was able to stay on the lead lap and would finish in 24th.
The race needed to be extended so a green-white-checkered restart took place on lap 120. Both lines ran side-by-side for the full two laps and a lot of bump drafting was going on in each line. The high line was able to barely prevail with a well timed bump by Trevor Bayne and some great side drafting by Regan Smith giving the win to the JR Motorsports driver over Team Penske's Brad Keselowski by about two feet.
Trevor Bayne finished third, Kyle Busch fourth, Elliott Sadler fifth, Brendan Gaughan sixth, Ty Dillon seventh, Dylan Kwasniewski eighth, Ryan Sieg ninth, and Kyle Larson tenth. Dale Earnhardt Jr was 11th, Joe Nemecheck 12th, Matt Kenseth 13th, Mike Wallace 14th, Chase Elliott 15th, James Buescher 16th, Brian Scott 17th, Ryan Reed 18th, Danica Patrick 19th, and Mike Bliss 20th. Landon Cassill was 21st, Blake Koch 22nd, Dakoda Armstrong 23rd, Chad Boat 24th, David Starr 25th, Scott Lagasse Jr 26th, and Jamie Dick was the last lead lap car in 27th.
After the checkered flag heading to Turn 1 the front cars slowed faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr thought they would and he ran into the back of Kyle Larson. That sent the No. 42 of Larson into Joe Nemechek and spun Nemechek out. As his No. 87 spun it backed up the track where Ryan Reed creamed him hard. Also spinning and bumping in the crash were Ryan Sieg, Brian Scott, James Buescher, and Landon Cassill.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series will get right back to action next weekend with the Blue Jeans Go Green 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, March 1st.
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