Regan Smith, interim driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 16th Sunday in the 57th running of the Daytona 500, the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Smith was selected to drive the No. 41 Chevrolet after Kurt Busch was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR on Friday afternoon. He had just one practice session Saturday to get comfortable in the car, and his laps were limited to single-car runs, as the Tony Gibson-led team did not want to risk damaging their racecar.
Smith was credited with taking the green flag from the 24th position Sunday, but he started at the back of the field due to a driver change after qualifying, per the NASCAR rulebook. He spent the first several laps trying to get a feel for the car’s handling in the draft. Despite struggling with a tight-handling racecar, he bided his time, logging laps while coming to pit road when the opportunity allowed for the Haas Automation team to make needed chassis adjustments. The adjustments sometimes hindered and other times helped cure the handling woes of Smith’s racecar.
“We started off really tight and weren’t able to get it to turn,” Smith said. “It was frustrating. I anticipated a much better day. The Haas Automation team did a nice job all weekend, but we just couldn’t overcome the tightness in the corners.”
A late-race caution pushed the race into overtime, setting up a green-white-checkered finish. Gibson called the No. 41 to pit road for four fresh tires, giving Smith one final opportunity at improving his position. The strategy saw Smith restart toward the back of the field, but with savvy driving he managed to avoid a last-lap incident that occurred in front of him and advance to the 16th position before NASCAR elected to throw the caution flag, freezing the field and ending the race.