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Sprint Cup - Smith Comes On Strong

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DAYTONA BEACH, Feb. 24, 2012: Regan Smith stayed patient and then hung tough in the closing laps as he maneuvered his No. 78 Chevrolet to a runner-up finish in Thursday's second Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

The Furniture Row Racing driver finished less than a second behind race winner Matt Kenseth in the 60-lap, 150-mile competition at Daytona International Speedway.

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart won the first qualifying race with Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming in second.

Smith's result will place him sixth on the starting grid for Sunday's 54th running of the Daytona 500. He will take the green flag on the outside of Row 3 alongside No. 5 qualifier Earnhardt.

Earning starting positions 1-4 in the confusing qualifying system are: Carl Edwards (first), Greg Biffle (second), Stewart (third) and Kenseth (fourth). Edwards and Biffle already had the front row locked after posting the two-fastest qualifying speeds during Sunday’s Pole Day.

Smith, who also finished second in the Daytona 500 qualifying race last year and then went on to finish seventh in the main event, said his car got a little wobbly on the last lap which cost him a shot at passing Kenseth for the victory.

“Clint (Bowyer) gave me more of a shove than I thought I was going to get and I got a little squirrely on the backstretch and lost the run,” explained the 28-year-old Smith. “It would have been nice to put the Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet in Victory Lane, but no complaints. We don’t have a torn up race car and we learned a lot about what we need to do on Sunday.”

Smith, who started 18th after a subpar performance during Sunday’s single-run qualifying effort, methodically managed his way to the front. He ran in the top-three from Lap 25-43 and took over second after a fuel-only pit stop on Lap 42. He remained in the No. 2 position for the remainder of the race.

“It’s good to know that we have a car capable of running up front,” said Smith. “I’m proud of these guys for working hard. This car didn’t have a lot of speed on qualifying day. The team has been constantly trying to find every little thing they can. We are going to keep doing that through Sunday and if we can get down to five to go and be in position to sniff the lead then we will see what happens.”