Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Regan Smith beat Brad Keselowski in a photo finish to win Saturday's 300-mile Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
A caution in the closing laps set up a green-white-checkered finish. Keselowski held the lead for the final two-lap restart, but Smith, using the outside lane, pulled ahead of Keselowski just before they approached the finish line. Smith beat him by only 0.013 seconds to claim his fourth career Nationwide victory, including his first at Daytona.
Smith got pushing help from Trevor Bayne, while Kyle Busch pushed Keselowski during the final lap.
"It's good to come out of the box strong like this," Smith said. "You know, this is Daytona. It's tough to win here. This [car] was fast. Once I got out in front, I was able to stay out there and take a push from guys."
It was the second closest finish in a Nationwide race at Daytona and the seventh closest all-time in the series. The finish was almost identical to Friday night's Camping World Truck Series event at this track, where Busch edged Timothy Peters to the line by just 0.016 seconds.
"We had a really fast [car], but it wasn't quite enough," Keselowski said. "The push that Trevor gave Regan was just a little bit stronger than the one Kyle gave me. That's just part of racing."
Smith, a Nationwide regular, is in his second full-season as driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, a team co-owned by Sprint Cup Series superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. This past year, Smith finished third in the Nationwide point standings and won two races, including Talladega, a track similar to Daytona.
Smith held the lead during the final lap of last year's Nationwide season- opener at Daytona, but he was hit from behind by Keselowski and crashed into the outside wall on the frontstretch. He collected nearly a dozen drivers running behind him in a tight pack. Kyle Larson flipped around and sailed into the catchfence. Flying debris from Larson's car and the fence injured dozens of spectators in the grandstands.
"After what happened at the start/finish line last year, I felt terrible," said Smith, who finished 14th in the 2013 race. "It's a situation where you can't change it. Thankfully, everybody was able to come back from the injuries and be OK. I wanted to see the checkered flag in a proper manner at Daytona and not cause the wreck there."
Bayne finished third, and Busch, who led the most laps with 44, placed fourth. Elliott Sadler was fifth.
Brendan Gaughan took the sixth spot, followed by rookies Ty Dillon and Dylan Kwasniewski, who started on the pole. Ryan Sieg and Larson completed the top-10.
Earnhardt finished 11th after leading 28 laps.
"I'm just happy for Regan," Earnhardt said. "He was really stressed out over last year and how close he came to winning this race. It's a great boost for our company. We're headed in a good direction. Hopefully, this is the start of something for us."
JRM restructured its personnel for Smith's No. 7 team during the offseason, with Ryan Pemberton taking over crew chief duties. Smith and Pemberton previously worked together during Smith's opening season in Sprint Cup in 2007.
The Nationwide race at Daytona featured five cautions, including a few for accidents involving no more than three cars. Eric McClure and rookie Chad Boat made contact on lap 116, which prompted the green-white-checkered finish.
After crossing the finish line, several drivers bumped into each other and spun out. Ryan Reed slammed hard into the back of Joe Nemechek, which severely damaged both of their cars. There were no injuries.