For many in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series field on Friday night, the season-opening race was met with optimism and hopes of kicking the year off on the right foot as they all had their eyes on the championship prize at the end of the road.
But after the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona turned into a wreckfest from beginning to end, drivers throughout the garage leave the World Center of Racing with mangled sheet metal and a hole to dig themselves out of in the points standings.
Just three laps into the race, the first multi-truck crash of the night, which occurred when rookies Noah Gragson and Chase Briscoe made contact entering Turn 1, sending Gragson spinning, and collecting a total of 14 trucks by the time the chaos ended.
Besides Gragson, Briscoe’s Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Austin Cindric and full-time driver Ryan Truex also got swept up in the mess, sending the three trucks as well as five others to the garage immediately, ending their nights before they ever really started.
“I was riding probably around seventh or eighth at the time on the outside and just got popped from behind, it felt like, going through one and two. The 29 got me. He hit me, got me sideways and then I tried not getting into the 27 (Ben Rhodes) in front of me, but it was not our night tonight I guess. I was happy with our Switch Tundra. It’s a bummer but we’ll move on to Atlanta. I had a good time up there for the lap I got, but just very thankful to be here racing at Daytona, racing in the Truck Series. There’s always next week. Just going to keep on digging. Just really appreciate everyone who’s made this possible,” said Gragson.
“People just aren’t patient. It’s lap four and we’re bump drafting. There’s no reason for it. It’s disappointing. Chalk it up to inexperience I guess. There’s just no need to race this hard that early. Unfortunately, we’ve got a wrecked truck. I saw smoke and I slowed down and got pushed from behind and got hit three or four times and our truck was stuck in the mud and wrecked. We’ll go on to Atlanta,” said Truex.
Gragson, Cindric, and Truex would finish the night in 26th, 27th, and 28th, leaving them 45-47 points down from the lead after the season opener.
Though the first wreck took out so many trucks, the drivers were certainly not done wrecking as the night progressed.
There were a couple of one and two truck incidents through the middle of the race, but once the checkered flag was in sight, the intensity picked up and the inevitable “Big One” struck…. again.
Matt Crafton took the lead just prior to the white flag and looked like he would finally have a shot at a Daytona win that has eluded him over the years, but once again, it was not to be for Team 88.
As Crafton held the lead, Johnny Sauter, who had won the first two stages in the race, dove for the middle and split Crafton and his Thorsport teammate Ben Rhodes, bringing the three trucks into a three-wide formation. However, something had to give and down the backstretch on the final lap, all hell broke loose.
Rhodes got tagged from behind, sending his truck sideways back across the track into Sauter and then into Crafton, which sent Crafton airborne as a total of 12 trucks got collected in the mayhem. Crafton would do a complete barrel roll in the air before landing on Sauter’s truck and then coming to rest in the backstretch grass.
“I was coming off (turn) two and I was like, ‘I’m going to win this race, I’m going to win this race.’ I got my Daytona jinx off of me and all of the sudden I looked in the mirror and I saw the 27 (Ben Rhodes) get turned and I’m like, ‘Just don’t let him get in the right rear of me,’ and the 27 of Ben Rhodes gave me the push to win that race and I got out so far going through the tri-oval and then I got hooked and then I felt light and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the air then I was in the air and then I saw lights and we had the wrong side down boys. All in all we had a very fast Menards Toyota Tundra and NASCAR does a great job with all this safety equipment for us to be able to walk away from this like we did,” said Crafton.
All of the drivers involved were checked and released from the infield care center, leaving Daytona with mangled trucks and poor finishes to start the season.
Crafton leaves Daytona 33 points in arears, while Sauter was saved as a result of his two stage wins and sits second in points, 14 points back.