Regan Smith had to overcome a late-race green-white-checkered restart, fuel mileage concerns and much more, but in the end it was a hard charge by Kasey Kahne that proved too much for Smith to handle on Friday night at Daytona International Speedway.
In dramatic fashion, Kahne used a huge push from Ryan Sieg down the backstretch on the final lap to move to the outside of Kyle Larson in second to nip Smith at the line by 0.021 seconds to score the NASCAR Nationwide Series win at DIS.
"Everybody at JR Motorsports brought a great car," Kahne said in Victory Lane. "Everything I did tonight was wrong. I’d look in my mirror and say, ‘Go!’ Then I’d decide not to and it’d be the right move. I just didn’t’ do a whole lot right with our Hellman’s Chevrolet. At the end, I had a huge push from the No. 39, Sieg, and just felt really good. The car had speed all night. I was just able to get by Regan there, and I think Larson was on the bottom. Just had tons of momentum coming off Turn 4 and a fast car."
Kahne knew he was the winner as he crossed the line, thanks to a big final push from Sieg.
"A little bit before the line I was unsure," he said. "That last push, the last time Ryan hit me, it really boosted me past the 7 and I felt good about it at that point."
The win was Kahne’s first Nationwide Series victory since August 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway, and JR Motorsports’ sixth win of the 2014 season. That includes one that Smith earned in the series opener at Daytona back in February.
Smith led a race-high 47 laps this time, but narrowly missed out on the Daytona season sweep to his JR Motorsports teammate.
"I watched the replay, and I blocked (Larson’s) move and think if I had go up any higher we probably all wreck right there," Smith said. "I don’t know how to do it different. I’ll have to watch the tape and see where I messed up coming off Turn 4. I had a pretty good-sized gap, but at that point you can’t crack the throttle or drag the brake because they’ll really swarm you bad. I lost just enough momentum that it didn’t work out."
After pushing Kahne to the front Sieg came home third, his best career finish in 20 Nationwide Series starts.
Rookie Ryan Reed crossed the line fourth, while Larson dropped back to fifth after trying to block Kahne’s charge on the high side.
Outside pole-sitter Trevor Bayne was able to lead Lap 1 after rain delayed the start of Friday night’s 250-mile NASCAR Nationwide Series race by nearly 90 minutes.
While the bottom lane was the preferred line around the track, Elliott Sadler was able to lead the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing cars as they jumped to the outside to take the lead from Bayne on Lap 9.
Once out front, the three JGR cars of Sadler, Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace Jr. set the pace as the top line attempted to climb to the front of the pack multiple times, each time to no avail.
After green flag pit stops cycled through on Lap 42, Busch led the pack around, while his teammate Sadler was forced to hit pit road a second time for a loose wheel on Lap 43.
Sadler wasn’t the only driver to have issues during the first round of green flag stops, however. Joey Logano was forced to serve a pass-through penalty after he was caught speeding exiting pit road.
With Sadler running around 26th after the loose wheel, his JGR teammate Kyle Busch gave up the race lead to pick up the No. 11 Toyota and keep him in the lead pack.
While Sadler was fighting to recover from his issue on pit road, his teammate Darrell "Bubba" Wallace was forced to deal with a self-made issue when the caution flew for the first time on Lap 52.
As the field slowed for the debris caution, Wallace Jr. checked up and lost control of his No. 20 Toyota. While he was able to keep it from spinning out, the car shot down the track and damaged the left front splitter. The team made three stops under the caution to repair the damage.
After the second stops of the day, Smith restarted the race with the lead on Lap 58, leading his JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.
As the high line was making strides on Smith and the leaders, Busch jumped to the outside lane ahead of Bayne to challenge for the top spot with 30 laps to go. Racing side-by-side for the lead for the next eight laps, the top side lost momentum when Dakoda Armstrong had to jump out of the groove.
With the top line falling back, the JR Motorsports teammates continued to hug the yellow line and set the pace at the front of the pack with 20 laps to go.
With the laps winding down, teams became increasingly concerned about fuel mileage, especially race-leader Smith.
Road America winner Brendan Gaughan spun off Turn 4 with seven laps to go, providing a bit of cushion for those close on fuel.
Restarting the race with just three laps to go, Chase Elliott did not get going leading the inside line. As the field stacked up, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne spun through the grass to bring out the final caution of the night and set up a green-white-checkered restart.
With a host of teams increasingly concerned about fuel mileage with the race pushed to overtime, the GWC restart went smoothly, as the field was able to jockey for position over the final three laps.
Thanks to leading the most laps and finishing second, Regan Smith was able to take the lead in the series standings, with a 12-point gap on Elliott Sadler in second place.
Sadler was running up front for much of the early stages of the race, but was forced to pit road for a loose wheel and was turned late in the race on the second to last restart of the night.
"Just a loose left rear wheel," Sadler said. "It’s just a shame. Kyle (Busch) and I worked so great all night running one and two to set the pace and make it really hard on everyone else. We just shot ourselves in the foot. We can’t do this many more times.
"Proud of my guys on the pit crew, just a little hiccup tonight. This Sport’s Clips Toyota was fast. On the tracks we run the best at, we’ve got to get the most points, and we weren’t able to do that. We dug ourselves a hole and we’ve got to regroup and come back in New Hampshire."
Next week, the Nationwide Series heads to the flat, one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.