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Fill-in drivers Smith, Crafton non-factors in Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Replacement drivers Regan Smith and Matt Crafton were in the spotlight and out of contention in the Daytona 500.

Smith, filling in for suspended Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing, finished 16th. Crafton, a last-minute sub for injured Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, crossed the finish line less than 2 seconds later in 19th.

It was about what should have been expected from guys who got little or no practice time leading into the “Great American Race.”

Smith stepped into the No. 41 Chevrolet on Saturday, a day after NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch indefinitely. A Delaware judge said the 2004 champion almost surely choked and beat his former girlfriend at Dover International Speedway last fall.

Smith turned a handful of laps in Saturday’s final practice session, but did no drafting. He raced in the Xfinity Series opener later that day and ended up flipping in a multicar wreck.

He stayed out of trouble in his seventh Daytona 500, but wasn’t a factor.

“I anticipated a better day,” Smith said. “I’m frustrated we didn’t get up there and at least contend to leading some laps. I wanted to make a little better show of it. That was disappointing. But just running this race is a big deal. I’d rather be racing than sitting at home.”

It’s unclear whether Smith will be behind the wheel again next week in Atlanta. Car owner Gene Haas, who funds the car out of his pocket because of his affinity for Busch, declined to answer any questions about the odd situation before Sunday’s race.

Smith sounded unsure, too.

“I have no idea,” he said. “That’s a question for the team. I don’t know.”

Crafton, a two-time defending Truck Series champion, got no seat time in the No. 18 Toyota before the race. Kyle was ruled out after breaking his right leg and left foot in a harrowing crash Saturday in the Xfinity Series season opener.

Busch slammed into a concrete wall that had no SAFER barrier, the energy-absorbing divider that has helped revolutionize NASCAR safety since Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona in 2001.

Busch had surgery on his leg Saturday night. His foot will be examined when he returns to Charlotte, North Carolina, by specialist Dr. Robert Anderson.

Crafton, meanwhile, was driving back to North Carolina in his motorhome Saturday when his phone started ringing. He was measured for Busch’s seat — the rushed fitting ended up causing cramps during the race — and then flew back to Daytona later that night.

Although he has raced several times at the high-banked superspeedway, this was his first Daytona 500 start. He was caught up in a last-lap wreck, but managed to get across the finish line.

“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 up top and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back. I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.

“It’s a pretty gnarly learning curve.”

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