Smith Wins Thriller at Daytona

No. 7 Ragu Chevrolet

In what concluded with a dramatic drag race to the finish line, it was Regan Smith and the No. 7 Ragu team who tasted victory in Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. Smith ran in second for the green-white-checkered restart and utilized a daring side draft off Brad Keselowski coming to the checkered flag to inch out the win by a mere .013 seconds. The jaw-dropping finish was the second-closest in Nationwide Series history at Daytona.
It proved to be a strong output from the 7 team, but it was anything but easy. The onset of Smith’s day was not entirely promising. He settled into a position deep in the draft through the opening 50 laps of the race. A two-tire pit stop on lap 52 under green-flag conditions, proved a pivotal moment for the team, as it gained a handful of positions, allowing Smith to occupy the fifth spot.

As the race wore on, it appeared competitors preferred the bottom lane. A few ventured into the top line, but passing via that line became a monumental task. Still, it’s how Smith moved into the lead on lap 76. With a push from the 22 car, Smith muscled around the No. 54 of Kyle Busch and into the top spot. He led the ensuing 34 laps before falling to second prior to the green-white-checkered restart.

Smith took the closing restart in the top line, and by the time the field rumbled into the first turn, he was hugging the quarter-panel of leader Keselowski. Smith inched his way even with Keselowski down the backstretch and the two were side-by-side leading the pack to the white flag. Making delicate yet aggressive moves, Smith stayed near even with the 22 coming to the checkered flag. It was a power side draft off of turn four and through the tri-oval, in addition to a strong push from Trevor Bayne, which ultimately scored the win for Smith and the No. 7 Ragu team.

Keselowski, Bayne, Busch and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five finishers.

Regan Smith, driver No. 7 Ragu team

“We got shuffled coming to the white, where I think I was outside of the 54 car. I saw Brad get just a little bit out front of the 54. That gave me the ability to choke the 54 down and get to the 22’s quarter panel. Then it was a matter of keeping him pinched down through the final lap. We had a good push from the 6. My biggest concern going into turn three was that the 54 didn’t bump the 22 too hard with me on his door and send us both spinning. At that point, it was a drag race and we can thank our Hendrick Engine for the outcome.

“The 6 car played a big part with him back there bump drafting. He stuck with me. I was able to get on Brad’s door going into turn one and get even with him. Once we got even, I felt like we had an opportunity to get to the stripe. I pinched him off through turns three and four as much as I possibly could. Once we came off the corner, I made a last dive to the wall and at the same time I got a bump draft from Trevor almost at the exact time that I started pulling off the 22 car. It was just enough to surge us forward. It was either going to be enough or it wasn’t. We were fortunate that it was enough. I did not think we would be able to line up on the outside and get that win. Now we don’t have to worry about that. We got the win and we’re going to enjoy this one.

“We really feel this is the year as a company we can go out and challenge the Penske cars and the Gibbs cars and stamp our name right beside them, if not ahead of them.

“Wins are all special and they all have meanings that are different. At Homestead, I was coming off an interesting year. Fast forward to Talladega, that was a situation where you wait all day long and you make the right move not knowing if you won or not. Michigan it was great because it was Greg’s (Ives) home track. Now both Ryan (Pemberton) and I have a win at Daytona.

“This one is special because we had so many people here and so many partners. Our friends from Ragu and TaxSlayer were all here and were able to come to victory lane, so that meant a lot. Kelley, Dale Jr., and Mr. Hendrick were all in victory lane and it was a tremendous feeling. It was awesome to see my wife and Mom and Dad there, too. It was just a great day.”

Ryan Pemberton, crew chief No. 7 Ragu team

“We talked about fundamentals all week. Making sure we didn’t take ourselves out of the game. It was tough to pass and being out front was key. I was really worried about the fuel mileage game. The way we pitted and when he stole the lead on the restart you know fuel mileage isn’t going to be good. But we made it work. That was really our race and it gave us an opportunity to win.

“I think JR Motorsports is stronger than ever. I think we just built a better foundation for the entire company. We have to rely on everyone to make this happen. I feel good about this race team and all three teams. You have to have real competitive cars with a multi-car team and that is just going to elevate our program. We lean on each other. The foundation is there. The cars are better and the entire situation is better.”

Keep up with JR Motorsports driver Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) on Twitter. You can also follow the JRM team (@JRMotorsports) or check in on the JR Motorsports Facebook page.

Regan Smith Race Report:

  Start 19th
  Finish 1st
  Laps Completed (Led) 121 of 121 (35)
  Points (Bonus) 47 (4)
  Standings (From Leader) 1st (+6)
  Condition (Status) Running