The Camping World Truck Series put on a thriller at Daytona on Friday night, where veteran Johnny Sauter ended up in Victory Lane following many late race pileups.
This is Sauter’s 11th career victory in the Truck Series and his first with the newly acquainted No. 21 team of GMS Racing.
With the new Chase format in the Truck Series, Sauter has essentially clinched a spot in the Chase before the season truly gets started next week at Atlanta. No matter what happens the rest of the regular season there is a high probability that he will be one of the eight drivers eligible for a championship.
“I honestly believed that we could win,” Sauter said. “The first time I went to the race shop down in Statesville there it was unbelievable. All of the resources that are at our disposal with our in-house chassis shop, in-house body shop, that’s kind of a rare commodity in the Truck Series. I honestly can’t say that I’m surprised that we are here.”
In the last 12 laps there were two crashes in which changed the complex of the race. The “big one” involved 16 different trucks, including Austin Theriault who led a race-high 31 laps.
The incident occurred following three-wide racing for a handful of laps. The No. 17 of Timothy Peters got into the rear of Cameron Hayley causing him to move up the track into the door of John Hunter Nemechek. The end result saw 16 drivers lose their opportunity at a shot of victory in the biggest race of the season including two-time series champion Matt Crafton.
Other drivers such as Ben Kennedy, Cole Custer Daniel Suarez, John Wes Townley and Rico Abreu were caught up in this crash. The pile-up created a red flag that lasted nearly 30 minutes.
“We were working hard to get back to the front, track position is important here,” Theriault said. “We had the speed we needed. We got caught up three-wide there and once you get three-wide anything can happen. Thank god for SAFER barriers. If anything that is what I took away from it when I hit the wall in (Turn) 3.”
Last fall, Theriault had a vicious crash at Las Vegas where he took a brutal hit head on into the outside wall, costing him to miss the rest of the season.
“It’s unfortunate things happen like that, but that’s speedway racing,” Abreu said. “I learned a ton the whole race and I made it to the last seven. I wish I would be up there racing for the lead but as long as I can sit there and soak it all up and learn I’m happy with it.”
The second crash came just after the field took the white flag as Sauter had just passed Ryan Truex for the lead. He received a big shove from Christopher Bell, but in the process Peters turned into the No. 4 truck in which he barrel-rolled down the front stretch.
Bell put his window net down immediately and jumped out of his machine, however, was later brought to a local medical facility where he is being checked for injuries.
Truex brought his No. 81 truck home in second. Last month, he didn’t even know that he would have a ride in any NASCAR series. Following Daytona, he is second in points and believes that Hattori Racing Enterprises will now be a full-time team going forward.
In his return to the Truck Series, Parker Kligerman came home in the third position. The Robby Benton owned race team tied a career-high finish for the No. 92 truck when Clay Rogers finished third at Daytona in 2011. Much like Truex, he also had no plans to go racing this season until a month ago when this offer was on the table. He will be at Atlanta next week to try and record a victory the 1.5-mile racetrack.
Brandon Brown finished fourth on Friday night, which was his best career finish. Over the last two seasons his team had only competed in eight races. Following this effort the 22-year-old was ecstatic about his future going forward.
“This means the world to me,” Brown said. “This is what I live for. This is why I race, to fight up here with all these big teams. We’re the next big thing to hit the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. There was a lot of pressure going into the weekend, a lot of hard work and a lot of heart and soul went into it which is why it means so incredibly much to me.”
Former series champion Travis Kvapil rounded out the top five, compared to championship contenders of Crafton who finished 10th, Peters 15th, Nemechek 17th and Tyler Reddick 18th.
The caution clock was put into play for the first time in this 250-mile event. New to 2016, the clock counts down from 20 minutes, and if there isn’t a caution in that time span NASCAR will throw a caution.
On Lap 41, the caution clock was getting close to running out when some teams tried to make a strategy call and pit so that they would have track position after the caution while the other teams went down pit road for services. This led to a four car incident.
Cody Coughlin of Kyle Busch Motorsports got into the rear of Spencer Gallagher sending him spinning down the pits, but William Byron was also tangled in the incident and received damage to the front end of his machine.
This was the only time that the caution clock came to use, but moving forward it could affect the outcome of some races in the series.
The tailgaters will hit the track next Friday evening at Atlanta for the second race of the season.