CLICK: Full race results and Nationwide Series championship standings.
Kasey Kahne led only one lap all night, but it was the also the only one with a chequered flag attached to it as he took advantage of a late brace of cautions to surge forward through the final corners and claim victory in the Subway Firecracker 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway on Friday.
Kahne's eighth Nationwide win in 204 starts - his first since August 2007 - was an incredibly close-run thing, however: he crossed the line just 0.02s ahead of long-time race leader (and his JR Motorsports team mate) Regan Smith. That makes it the eighth closest all-time finish in the series' history, and the third closest at Daytona.
"It's been a while since I've been in any Victory Lane. It felt great," said Kahne, who'd felt stranded back in the pack for much of the race. "I didn't really do a whole lot right ... We just kind of sat there through most of the race. I was kind of at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then the last half-lap I had tons of momentum: the cars in front of me moved in the right direction, Ryan Sieg was pushing and letting off and bumping and hitting me good and hard - that was kind of the whole reason we were able to win."
It had been Dakoda Armstrong who had started from pole position for the first time in 23 Nationwide Series appearances, after qualifying was interrupted by a nine-car wreck as a result of rain starting to fall at Daytona. With the track needing a lengthy period of drying, NASCAR declared the starting grid according to the results of the curtailed round 1. However when the rain-delayed race finally got underway more than an hour behind schedule, Armstrong was quickly passed for the lead by Trevor Bayne who in turn had to surrender the lead after seven laps to Elliott Sadler who was supported by his Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace who moved ahead of Bayne and Armstrong.
Busch won the race off pit road after the first round of green flag stops on lap 37. The JR Motorsports trio of Regan Smith, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne also taking the opportunity to move up into the top six when a loose wheel drove Sadler back to pit road; that affected Busch, who was left without his drafting partner and promptly started to slide back down the running order leaving Kyle Larson in the lead ahead of Smith, Elliott, Bayne and Kahne as the race reached the halfway point.
The first caution of the night came out for debris in turn 2 minutes later, with Sadler handed the much-needed free pass back onto the lead lap lap as a result. Smith won the race off pit road this time to lead at the restart ahead of Elliott, Busch, Bayne, Larson and Ty Dillon, with Kahne back in eighth place having taken two tyres while the others ahead had been fuel-only stops. With Elliott suffering from gear problems, the battle for the lead quickly narrowed down to a duel between Smith and Busch over the ensuing laps which was eventually won by Smith, while Busch lost his draft and fell back down the running order.
With ten laps remaining it was still Smith in the lead with his team mate Elliott hanging on in second place, but then the second caution of the evening came on lap 93 when Brendan Gaughan spun out. The restart attempt on lap 98 was a messy one - Elliott lost out at the front and behind him Sadler, Bayne and David Ragan all got caught out and spun, forcing the race into green-white-chequered overtime which sent several cars marginal on fuel to pit lane for a splash-and-dash, including Busch and Chase Elliott which removed them from contention for the win.
All of which allowed Kasey Kahne to jump up from fifth place at the restart (which was already up from 12th at the previous caution) to battle for the lead with Smith through the final corner. Kahne hadn't led all evening whereas Smith had been in front for 47 laps, but the #7 had been busy fighting off Larson at the restart and wasn't able to seal the deal when it mattered the most, allowing Kahne to go around the outside and put his nose across the line first to claim the win by two hundredths of a second. Rookie pair Ryan Sieg and Ryan Reed got the best of the rest in the last minute scramble to finish third and fourth respectively ahead of Larson, Joey Logano and Wallace.
"Ryan Sieg was pushing me hard, letting off and bumping and that was the reason we were able to win," explained Kahne of his final lap charge. "Sieg hit me from behind and hit me hard. I just kept getting more momentum coming to the line."
"I didn't even know the #5 had a run until we were past the start-finish line," admitted Smith. "I knew he had so much momentum when he went past me, I kind of figured he nipped me. I had enough time to look at the [scoring] pylon real quick and it had already adjusted, so I knew, right there.
"It's kind of bittersweet," he added. "I'm disappointed for the team, I'm disappointed for my guys, and selfishly I'm disappointed. But for JR Motorsports, I'm happy, a one-two finish is great. It's kind of a weird mix of emotions right now."
There was some controversy after the race as what Sieg had done could have been construed as tandem drafting, now illegal in Nationwide events at Daytona - Josh Wise had even earlier been penalised for pushing Landon Cassill - but NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said there had been nothing improper: "Cars are moving side to side, which tells you they are not directly connected," he pointed out.
There was consolation for Smith in knowing that his second place meant that he had moved back to the front of the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship standings by 12 points from Elliott Sadler who ended up in 21st position after the last caution spin. Chase Elliott is currently three points further back in third place.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings.