Overtime Carnage Results in 23rd-Place Finish for Crafton
After remaining damage-free beyond the scheduled length of the caution-filled NextEra Energy Resources 250, Matt Crafton's No. 88 Menards/Ideal Door Toyota was rocketing to the front when he fell victim to "the big one" on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Crafton had avoided multiple major incidents and appeared to be on his way to a top five when he was collected in a massive pileup just shy of the white flag, relegating him to a 23rd-place finish.
Crafton took the green flag from the 30th position and opted to remain at the rear of the field in order to protect his truck from the typically hard, crash-inducing racing toward the front. Forming a second pack with several trucks, Crafton's group remained a good distance behind the leaders, but maintained lap times identical to the frontrunners. On lap 15, Crafton relayed to new crew chief Junior Joiner that the Menards/Ideal Door machine was a "rocket ship" center off the corner, and the team felt confident that they'd be able to work the truck to the front when it came time at the end of the race.
A four-truck melee on lap 19 brought out the first yellow flag of the evening, scattering debris through turn four. Joiner called the No. 88 to pit road for four fresh tires as a precaution in case Crafton had run through any of the debris. Restarting in 15th on lap 24, Crafton once again went to the back to avoid the "squirrely" racing up front. Crafton was running 31st on lap 55 when his spotter reported that his competitors in the front were "racing too hard to not wreck."
The wreck came less than 10 laps later when two competitors collided in front of Crafton and checked up the field, causing him to spin down the front stretch and toward the inside wall. Making an impressive save, Crafton kept the No. 88 away from the wall and escaped damage-free. Entering the pits for four fresh tires, he returned to the track in 27th for the lap 69 restart. Crafton continued his strategy of hanging back, avoiding two more major wrecks, one of which occurred just inches behind the No. 88's rear bumper.
Finally, it was time for Crafton to make his move and he darted into the top ten. A seven-truck pileup on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish shuffled the leaders, putting Crafton in 10th in the second attempt to finish the race. Crafton was once again on the move when eventual race winner John King hit the rear end of ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, sending him nose first into the wall. The crash triggered a chain reaction that pushed the No. 88 into the outside wall. While Sauter was scraping to a stop ahead of him, Crafton's damaged machine was still carrying momentum, leaving him nowhere to go besides directly into his teammate. The two collided in a fiery crash, ending the night for both competitors. Crafton was ultimately scored in 23rd when the checkered flag waved.
"What a terrible way to start your season, but this is Daytona," said Crafton following the wreck. "It's the nature of the racing this track produces. Unfortunately, we're going back to the shop with a wrecked race truck, but there are at least some positives we can walk away with: My new crew chief made great calls to get us where we needed to be, we communicated well as a team and we had good pit stops. We got to see how well these Toyota Tundras perform at a superspeedway, our truck was fast enough to win the race and our strategy to stay out of trouble played out until the final laps. We should have been looking at a win or a top five. I'm looking forward to Martinsville and making up for the points we lost tonight. "