He could go with the lane he preferred — the outside — or the driver who had pushed him for the previous 20 laps, James Buescher.
Kenseth chose Buescher, and the decision paid off with the 27th NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of his career.
Thanks to the boost from Buescher, Kenseth’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota streaked away from the field after the final restart and earned the win in a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the event one lap past its scheduled distance of 100 laps.
“With the 34 (Buescher’s car) pushing me, we had a lot of speed, so it was important to keep him with me,” Kenseth said in Victory Lane. “I wanted to make sure we stuck with him. He did a great job, a really, really good job pushing there.
“It’s fun to be back in the Nationwide Series. It’s been a while, and it’s always special to win at Daytona.”
Buescher came home second, followed by Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch and polesitter Austin Dillon. After dominating the majority of the event, Sam Hornish Jr. finished a disappointing seventh.
Sadler won the $100,000 Nationwide Dash 4 Cash bonus as the highest finisher among four eligible drivers.
The victory was Kenseth’s first in the Nationwide Series since May 2011 at Charlotte. Then again, it was only his seventh start in the series since then. Kenseth didn’t run any NNS events in 2012, his last season with Roush Fenway Racing.
Even though Kenseth and Buescher distanced themselves from their pursuers coming to the checkered flag, Buescher was unable to make a move for the win.
“It wasn’t because I lifted,” Buescher said. “The engine was pretty cooked by then, but it got us to the finish line in second.”
Joey Logano spent the first three-quarters of the race pushing Hornish and seemed to have no difficulty with overheating, despite the sustained shoving. As a consequence, Hornish had led 56 laps by the time the field came to pit road on Lap 74 under the second caution of the night.
But Logano was first off pit road, and after the restart on Lap 78, Hornish was left without a partner and fell back through the field. Shortly thereafter, Logano dropped back to help his teammate, and together they began a steady climb toward the front.
On Lap 83, the Hornish-Logano tandem regained the top spot, only to lose it a lap later to Kenseth, who got a strong sustained push from Buescher. Hornish and Kenseth were battling side-by-side for the lead through Turn 2 when Mike Wallace stalled on the backstretch to cause the third caution of the race.
Three laps after a restart on Lap 94, a wild six-car wreck in Turn 4 — started by contact mid-pack between the cars of Travis Pastrana and Cole Whitt — stopped the race for track clean-up and set up the decisive green-white-checkered finish.
Notes: Eighth-place finisher Regan Smith retained a six-point lead over Hornish in the series standings. … The four Dash 4 Cash qualifiers for next Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway are Sadler, Dillon, Kyle Larson and Hornish.