Daytona Beach, FL – Matt Kenseth won a Nationwide Series race for the first time in more than two years on Friday night, thanks to pushing help from James Buescher during the closing laps in the Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
The race at Daytona ran accident free until lap 97 of the scheduled 100-lap race around this 2.5-mile superspeedway. Travis Pastrana triggered a six-car wreck between turns 3 and 4, which forced NASCAR to stop the event for 10 minutes due to clean-up efforts. It also set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Kenseth was leading the way when the fourth and final caution occurred. After the last restart, Kenseth and Buescher were hooked up in a tandem draft and pulled away from the field. Penske Racing teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Joey Logano were the strongest in the tandems throughout the race, as Hornish led 61 of the 101 laps.
"Buescher pushed me so fast," Kenseth said. "The 22 (Logano) and the 12 (Hornish) were together all night. No matter who I was pushing or who was pushing me, we couldn't run with those two. With the 34 (Buescher) pushing me, we could. We had the speed. So it was important to keep him with me.
"He did a really good job of getting us up to the lead and putting us in a position to try to win. So I wanted to make sure that I stuck with him. He did a great job pushing there."
Kenseth beat Buescher to the finish line by just 0.189 seconds. It was Kenseth's 27th career Nationwide victory but his first since May 2011 at Charlotte. He has competed in just seven of the 70 races in the series since his last win.
Kenseth, in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, gave crew chief Matt Lucas his first Nationwide win.
"(Lucas) has been doing a good job, and he's been giving me fast cars," Kenseth said.
Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 champion and winner of four Sprint Cup Series races this season, will start on the front row with his JGR teammate Kyle Busch in Saturday night's 400-mile race here.
Buescher, the 2012 Camping World Truck Series champion, claimed his first Nationwide victory in the 2012 season-opener at Daytona.
"When Matt lost his drafting partner there within 20 laps to go, I was relieved," Buescher said. "I was running inside the top-10 and was the odd-man out. I latched on to his rear bumper, and we went right to the front. Right then, I knew that I had to stay committed to him for the end of the race, as long as we could. Everything worked out on the restart. He did a heck of a job all night, picking the right lanes and getting us up to the front."
Elliott Sadler finished third and collected a $100,000 bonus from series-title sponsor Nationwide Insurance for being the highest-finishing point-eligible driver in the race.
Kurt Busch, who won this race one year ago, placed fourth, while Austin Dillon, the pole sitter, took the fifth spot.
Rookie Kyle Larson finished sixth, while Hornish ended up in seventh. Regan Smith, the points leader, Logano and Trevor Bayne completed the top-10. Kyle Busch was 11th.
Hornish trimmed Smith's lead to just six points. Sadler moved up one spot in the standings to third. He is now 14 points behind Smith.
"It was a great night for us," Sadler said. "I'm glad that I made it to the finish. (Kurt Busch) did a good job pushing me there at the end."
Justin Allgaier, who finished 12th, is 15 points behind, and Dillon trails by 17 markers.
Pastrana started second and led the opening lap. On lap 97, he cut in front of Cole Whitt and then lost control, as he shot up the track and into the path of Jason White. Both Pastrana and White hit the outside wall hard. No one was injured during the incident.
"I'm good and everything is fine, but I knocked the wind out of myself when I hit the wall," Pastrana said. "Our plan was to wait in the back (of the pack) and avoid that kind of stuff. I knew I would have to push it towards the end. I came down just a little bit there and got a hold of the 44 (Whitt). When I hit the wall, it didn't look that bad, but I clobbered it pretty good."
White slowly crawled out of his battered car and laid down on the ground, as track safety workers immediately arrived on the scene and tended to him.
"It took the breath out of me a little bit, and it was a pretty hard hit," White said.