Race: Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway
Race Winner: Regan Smith
Earnhardt Jr.'s finish: 11th
Race Highlights for Regan Smith: 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.
Race Highlights for Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11 th in the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway as the NASCAR Nationwide Series kicked off its 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet led the field for 28 laps early but was unable to charge to the front as the race wound down.
From the drop of the green flag, passing in the outside lane proved to be a tough task accomplished by few drivers. Knowing track position would be critical, crew chief Ernie Cope elected to keep the No. 88 on track under the race’s first caution at lap eight. That decision gained Earnhardt Jr. 10 spots to second and eventually gave him the lead on the ensuing restart. The red and black TaxSlayer Camaro proceeded to pace the field for the next 28 circuits before having to pit under green at lap 42. Having been off pit sequence with the majority of the lead pack, Earnhardt Jr. exited the pits with minimal drafting help. At one point, he ran 20 th , trailing the lead pack by more than 25 seconds. Fortunately for the No. 88 team, a lap-71 caution slowed the field allowing Earnhardt Jr. to recover lost time and hit pit road with the leaders.
As the laps evaporated, Earnhardt Jr. was only able to muster a charge to seventh working predominantly in the outside lane. He restarted seventh for a green-white-checkered finish but found himself boxed in behind other cars and unable to maneuver any higher as he crossed the line 11 th .
Race: Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway
Race Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured his second Daytona 500 victory Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. The victory, the 20th of Earnhardt Jr.’s career, came in dramatic fashion as he fended off all challengers in the late laps en route to his first victory since June 2012.
With the race only 38 laps old, rain halted the event for more than six hours. Earnhardt Jr. took the eventual restart 11th and methodically worked his way inside the top five and eventually the lead for the first time at lap 131.
Earnhardt Jr. maintained a stranglehold on a top-three running position down the stretch leading a race-high 54 laps as he battled alongside multiple perennial Chase contenders like Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
A pair of cautions in the last 20 laps forced Earnhardt Jr. to once again fight for the lead. On a final two-lap shootout, Earnhardt Jr. lined up next to Keselowski, and with help from Gordon, jumped to a quick lead. As Keselowski and eventual runner-up Denny Hamlin battled side by side on the final lap, Earnhardt Jr. extended his lead and cruised to the checkered flag.
The victory puts Earnhardt Jr. in prime position to qualify for the 2014 Chase format and the 2014-2015 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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