At the beginning of the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season, Regan Smith came oh-so-close to a win at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, as he was the race leader with the checkered flag in sight. But a multi-car wreck that sent much of Kyle Larson's car into the grandstands, injuring several fans also sent Smith back to 14th position for the finish.
This time around, though, Smith raced from second to the lead in the final feet of the 2014 DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide season opener at Daytona on Saturday to claim the win.
"Last year, after what happened at the start finish line, I felt terrible," Smith said.
The fifth caution of Saturday's race came out with four laps remaining, resulting in a green-white-checker, two-lap sprint to the finish and the race win with Brad Keselowski scored as the race leader and Smith beside him in second. The two raced side-by-side, Keselowski with Kyle Busch behind him and Smith being followed by Trevor Bayne, but as they reached the start/finish line for the final time, Smith inched ahead to beat Keselowski by 0.013 seconds.
"I was able to side draft Brad at just the right time," Smith said.
Keselowski had to settle for runner-up honors, while Bayne finished third, Busch fourth and Elliott Sadler fifth.
"There's really nothing you can do other than hold it down," Keselowski said of his inability to hold off Smith at the end.
Busch was up front for more laps than any other driver, taking the lead from pole sitter Dylan Kwasniewski on the first lap and showing the way until Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out while most pitted for fuel during the first caution of the race on lap nine. After the race returned to green, Earnhardt Jr. remained up front until he had to head down pit road for fuel on lap 43, turning the lead back over to Busch. After a 19.6-second pit stop, Earnhardt returned to the track a lap down. He got back on the lead lap, though, but was still off sequence when everyone else cycled through green-flag stops, beginning on lap 53.
Busch was, again, in the lead, but momentarily lost the top spot when Ty Dillon beat him off pit road during a caution with just under 50 laps remaining. Dillon had to return to pit road, though, to serve a speeding penalty, putting Busch back up front by the time the race restarted.
Smith took the lead for the first time when he was able to get in front of Busch on the restart. Busch then settled into second behind Smith and they ran one-two until Brad Keselowski was able to pull the outside line up far enough to run beside the race leaders.
Keselowski took the lead with 11 laps to go, shuffling Smith and Busch each back a position to second and third. As Smith and Keselowski raced side-by-side to the checkered flag, a multi-car wreck broke out behind them when Earnhardt made contact with Kyle Larson and caused a chain reaction that also collected the cars of Ryan Reed and Joe Nemechek. After the race, Earnhardt accepted responsibility for the wreck offering to pay for the damage done to the wrecked cars.