DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It was another photo finish at Daytona.
Regan Smith slipped past Brad Keselowski on the high side after a green-white-checker finish to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 Saturday. Smith’s No. 7 Chevrolet crossed the finish line .013 seconds ahead of Keselowski’s No. 22 Ford, securing the second-closest victory in series history at Daytona International Speedway.
It was another close finish this weekend at the legendary track. Kyle Busch captured the Camping World Truck Series race Friday night by the slimmest of margins — 0.16 seconds ahead of Timothy Peters.
It was Smith’s first Nationwide win at Daytona and his fourth overall series victory.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Smith said following the victory. “It’s a very special moment.”
“Once we got even, I felt like we had an opportunity to get to the stripe, and I made one last dive to the wall,” Smith added. “It was either going to be enough or it wasn’t. Fortunately it was enough.”
For 2012 Sprint Cup champion Keselowski, it was his second runner-up showing in a Nationwide race at Daytona. The 30-year-old led the final 11 laps of the race and appeared headed for his first victory before Smith pushed past him for the win.
“It’s a pretty strong day,” Keselowski said after the race. “I thought we had a shot to really pull it off.
“We’ve come as close as you can to win all three races in the (Sprint Cup) Limited and the (Budweiser) Duels,” added Keselowski, who will start in Row 17 for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Trevor Bayne, who finished behind Smith and Keselowski, was pleased with his third-place finish.
“Our car isn’t upside down and that’s a good day for us,” joked Bayne following the race. “We were hoping to come out of here with a top 10. We had a really strong day today and we’re pleased with a top-3 finish.”
With the win, Smith grabs the early points lead in the Nationwide Series with 47. He’s six points ahead of Bayne and eight points ahead of Elliott Sadler, who finished fifth. Keselowski and fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch are ineligible because of their Sprint Cup associations.
Familiar face back in Central Florida
Larry the Cable Guy is no stranger to NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway. Growing up in nearby Sanford, Larry (whose real name is Daniel Whitney) visited the legendary track “seven or eight” times to take in a race.
“It’s awesome,” he said Saturday before the start of the Nationwide race. “I’m a huge fan. There is absolutely nothing like coming to Daytona.”
Larry, who is at the track as a representative for Prilosec OTC, said the Daytona 500 is a special kind of event like the Super Bowl or baseball’s Opening Day.
“The smell of the tires and the gas — it’s just a lot of fun,” he added. “I enjoy it. I would probably be here even if I wasn’t here for Prilosec.
“Central Florida is always special to me and I can’t thank people enough.”
When asked whether he knew rapper 50 Cent, who is on hand as a team owner, Larry said he didn’t but joked, “My rapper name is Biggie Fries.”
Patriotic rock band Madison Rising performed the national anthem before the start of the Nationwide race and their rendition drew mixed reviews. Keselowski was asked for his reaction and he summed it up by saying, “I wish they would just sing the (expletive) song. That’s my reaction.”
Back of the pack
Martin Truex Jr., who qualified second for Sunday’s Daytona 500, will have to drop to the back of the starting grid before the green flag waves after switching to a backup car in the wake of his wrecking during the Budweiser Duels Thursday night. Also dropping back with Truex will be David Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson, all of whom will drive backup cars. Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Bobby Labonte also will start from the back of the field per NASCAR rules after changing engines.