Multicar wreck shoves Smithto 24th-place finish in Daytona 500

A late-race accident spoiled Regan Smith’s performance in Monday night’s rain-delayed Daytona 500, the season-opening event in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Smith’s No. 78 Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet, which showed its power by running up front during different periods of the scheduled 200-lap race, got collected in a multicar wreck on Lap 188.

Though Smith’s car suffered major front-end damage in the seven-car melee, he was able to bring the crippled machine home to a 24th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway.

The battered race car forced Smith to make three unscheduled pit stops for temporary repairs, including the removal of the car’s hood on the final stop.

“We just didn’t take advantage of our great race car tonight,” Smith said. “At the beginning of the race we ran up front and I could put the Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevy anywhere I wanted. It was that good.”

Smith, who started the Great American Race sixth, ran in the top-five with ease and led laps until a slow pit stop on Lap 58 sent him to the rear of the field.

“That pit stop took away our momentum and it was a battle to get back up front,” Smith explained.

Smith managed to get close to the lead cars as the race was winding down, but then found himself in a vulnerable position on the 2.5-mile oval. He got shuffled out of the draft to 19th place with 17 laps remaining.

“When you’re in the middle of the pack at the closing stages of a restrictor-plate race, you’re asking for trouble,” noted Smith. “We were in the danger zone and sure enough we got caught up in someone else’s mess. I knew we were in a bad position.

“But I felt if we could sneak through and avoid the wrecks we would have the potential of at least a top-10 finish. It was a bizarre ending to Speedweeks and the only good news from my standpoint is that the 2012 Daytona 500 is finally in the history books.”

It was indeed a bizarre ending. Not only was it the first Daytona 500 in 54 years that was postponed one day, but the race also saw a most unusual happening. A jet dryer cleaning the track during a caution erupted into flames after being run into by Juan Pablo Montoya’s race car.

Hundreds of gallons of jet fuel spilled onto the track surface, forcing NASCAR to bring out the red flag for more than two hours so safety crews could clean and dry the spillage.

“I have never seen anything like that in my career and I am willing to bet that no one else has either,” stated Smith about the jet dryer explosion. “It was spectacular, no question about that. The lengthy red flag knocked the wind out of our sails, but recently you’ve come to expect the unexpected at the Daytona 500.”

Smith added as he was leaving the track for the team’s home base in Denver, Colo., “It’s been a long Speedweeks and we need to recharge our batteries and get focused for this weekend’s Cup race in Phoenix. So much effort is put into the Daytona 500, but you have to keep in mind that it pays the same amount of points as the other 35 Sprint Cup races.”