NASCAR & Auto Racing

Daytona notebook: Substitutes Regan Smith, Matt Crafton post top-20 finishes

Matt Crafton greeteed fans when introduced before the start of the Daytona 500.
Matt Crafton greeteed fans when introduced before the start of the Daytona 500. The Associated Press

Regan Smith, who subbed for the suspended Kurt Busch in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet, finished 16th at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Matt Crafton, who replaced the injured Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota, was 19th.

“We started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” said Smith. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys did a nice job all weekend but we just plowed through the corners.”

Crafton, the two-time defending Camping World Trucks Series champion, called the race a learning experience.

“It was a learning curve,” Crafton said. “The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake. I had a pretty good surge to the top and tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back. I should have had a better finish at the end.”

Neither team has decided who will race their cars next week at Atlanta.

Gordon’s last lap

Pole sitter Jeff Gordon, competing in his final Daytona 500, led a race-high 87 laps, but he got caught up in the final lap wreck and finished 33rd.

“For some reason I’m still smiling and enjoying every moment of it,” said Gordon, who will retire at the end of the season. “Obviously, I enjoyed the first half a lot more than the second half. We had one restart where I started on the outside and just couldn’t get our line going. We got shuffled back and kind of played catch up from that point on.

“This was an amazing week and an amazing day. I am just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible. To just be taking it all in and enjoying every moment. Yeah, right now I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”

Bowyer in a backup

Despite having to use a backup car because he wrecked his No. 15 Toyota in qualifying, Clint Bowyer of Emporia finished seventh.

“I don’t know what I could have done different,” said Bowyer, who was in contention to win during the final restart. “I had them stacked up … pretty good cars behind me, and I knew they were going to shuffle me out. I was kind of the lone wolf in the whole group other than the 22 (Joey Logano), and he happened to be leading.

“Once they got me in the middle, three-wide, I was stuck …”

Edwards makes Gibbs debut

Carl Edwards of Columbia briefly led the race but ended up 23rd.

“Actually had a very strong car, and I had a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “I just didn’t pick the right lines there at the end … it just didn’t work. We got far enough back that it made it kind of hard to get back to the front. Had a great car, and we didn’t tear anything up … just had a good time.”

Stewart still winless

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart is now zero for 17 in Daytona 500 starts.

Stewart qualified seventh but was sidelined with suspension problems due to multi-car accident on lap 41. Stewart completed 72 laps but pulled his damaged car off the track with a 42nd finish when it became apparent he couldn’t gain any more places.

We ran as many laps as we could … but we couldn’t run any more laps and gain anything,” Stewart said. “It’s the biggest race of the year, and the last thing you want to do is stay out there and get in the middle of something. Let’s just let those guys have their day.”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @randycovitz.

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