You could call Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 a battle of attrition, but that wouldn’t do justice to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season opener.
It was more like a long, full-blown war.
In a race at Daytona International Speedway that saw a record 11 cautions, a record 55 caution laps and just nine of 32 trucks running at the finish, Austin Hill took the checkered flag on the 11th lap of NASCAR overtime to win for the first time in the series—in the Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota that carried Brett Moffitt to the championship last year.
“That whole last lap, my heart was pounding,” Hill said of the run to the finish on Lap 111. “I thought there were going to get to the outside and we were going to have a drag race. But I was able to protect it.
“I can’t believe my first win came at Daytona. It’s surreal. I can’t wait to party with these guys.”
Grant Enfinger ran second, 0.278 seconds behind Hill, after surviving a 12-car pileup in Turn 4 on Lap 54. Enfinger rallied from two laps down and tried to manufacture a run on Hill through the final two corners, but Hill blocked him effectively off Turn 4 and cruised to the finish line.
“I didn’t have anybody lined up behind me coming out of Turn 4,” Enfinger said. “I wonder if it’s a full moon tonight—carnage everywhere.”
Ross Chastain ran third in his first run for Niece Motorsports. Spencer Boyd was fourth, followed by Matt Crafton, Josh Reaume, Timothy Peters, Angela Ruch and Austin Wayne Self, who's battered No. 22 Chevrolet was the last car running at the finish.
Racing in the Truck Series for the first time since 2010, and for only the second time in her career, Ruch posted her best finish in a national series event. Her eighth-place result was the second highest by a female driver in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series history, with the record belonging to Jennifer Jo Cobb (sixth at Daytona in 2011).
Ben Rhodes was leading on Lap 99, before a 10-car crash knocked him out of the race. That wreck forced overtime, and on the first attempt, Self and Bobby Gerhart crashed on the backstretch to necessitate the second attempt.
Moffitt, the reigning series champion, was a victim of the Lap 54 melee and retired in 26th place in his first event with GMS Racing.
Before the race was three laps old, second-place qualifier David Gilliland brought his No. 17 Toyota to pit road with a cut tire. On the same circuit, Gilliland’s DGR-Crosley teammate, Natalie Decker, followed onto pit road, with a cut tire and a broken oil line.
Decker’s car burst into flames, with the fire shooting from the left wheel well, and her crew pulled her from the car, ending her first start in the Truck Series.
“The tire went down, and it caught on fire when I brought it to pit road,” Decker said. “I really wanted to have a good finish, but it is what it is.”
Under caution for Decker’s issue, Bryan Dauzat pitted after having hit the Turn 1 wall in an earlier incident under green. Unable to bring his No. 28 Chevrolet to a stop, Dauzat hit jackman Billy Rock and knocked him to the pavement.
Rock was alert and awake, according to NASCAR officials, but was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.
The early incidents, however, were merely a precursor for the wild action that followed.