Much different finish than last year: Regan Smith holds off Brad Keselowski to win Nationwide Series race at Daytona

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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.”

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Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/