DAYTONA BEACH — A year ago, Regan Smith left Daytona International Speedway a shaken driver.
On Saturday, he left a winner.
Smith edged past Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkered finish and won the NASCAR Nationwide series DRIVE4COPD 300 by 0.013 seconds, the seventh-closest finish in NASCAR's second-tier series and second-closest finish in series history at Daytona.
In 2013 Smith led going into the final turn, but his attempt to block Keselowski caused a 12-car crash that sent Kyle Larson's car into the fence and debris in the stands, injuring 28 fans.
This time, Smith, running second to Keselowski's Ford at the beginning of a restart, took advantage of a bump draft from Trevor Bayne, dived in front with his JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the final turn and earned his first victory at Daytona. Bayne finished third.
"Last year was a tough pill to swallow … nobody felt worse than me on Saturday night and Sunday morning," Smith said. "We were fortunate that it all turned out well, and we learned some stuff from that."
Smith, 30, bounced back to lead all Nationwide regulars with two wins last season. After winning the spring race at Talladega, he led the points for 10 straight weeks before settling for third in the standings.
But the memory of Daytona haunted Smith most of the year.
"I think it hurt him deeply that the fans were involved in the accident," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., co-owner of Smith's No. 7 Chevy. "He personally and privately bore some responsibility for his involvement in the crash, just being in the crash, to have someone in the grandstands get hurt had to affect him tremendously. … I think it shook the whole sport, to be honest."
Construction zone: Major changes to the speedway, as part of a $400 million project, mean that spectators will find new seats, new entrances and more when the project is done in a couple of years. For now, fans attending today's 500 will mostly see the construction. "We moved the entrance gates a little bit farther from the grandstands and you walk through a pedestrian walkway with construction on both sides," track president and Tampa native Joie Chitwood told the Tampa Bay Times this month. "So it's really about how we get you to the seat. But no changes to the stands now or the seats themselves. (In) '15, different story, it'll be more challenging because we'll have some new seats and old seats at the same time."
Sealed with a kiss: Rapper 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson), who awkwardly tried last year to kiss Fox reporter Erin Andrews at Daytona, is back. His SMS Audio headphone line is sponsoring Swan Racing drivers Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman. "I'm going to kiss Cole," 50 Cent said. "Only if I win," Whitt responded.
NHRA: John Force (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) maintained their first-day leads in qualifying for today's eliminations at the CarQuest Nationals in Phoenix.