DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A year ago, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski were running 1-2, heading to the checkered flag in the season-opening Nationwide Series race.
With the finish line only a few hundred feet away, Keselowski accidentally turned Smith’s car into the outside retaining wall, triggering a massive wreck that injured more than two dozen fans when debris went through and above the catchfence.
Fast forward a year to Saturday and it again came down to Smith and Keselowski closing in on the checkered flag. This time, the duo raced clean and Smith emerged to win the DRIVE4COPD 300.
“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.”
Smith beat Keselowski by .013 (second-closest NNS finish in Daytona history), followed by Trevor Bayne in third, Kyle Busch fourth and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five.
“We were real close, just came up a bit short,” Keselowski said. “We fought real hard and had a great car. That last restart, we just didn’t have enough.”
Keselowski said he didn’t have a flashback to the way last year’s race wound up.
“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.”
By finishing fourth, Busch was prevented from his overall weekend goal of a sweep. He won Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series event and hopes to capture his first Daytona 500 Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
“It was good early, I led a lot (race-high 44 laps), but wasn’t able to make the best of it at the end,” Busch said. “(I) just kind of got boxed in there late.”
Sixth through 10th were Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Sieg and Kyle Larson.
“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.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski