In a Nutshell: A wild, competitive race which has been the hallmark of the Truck Series since its Daytona debut. In this one, the big wrecks were held off until the final ten laps. When they did finally happen, shredding the field only about a dozen were left standing. Johnny Sauter was the veteran rising above it all, making a push at the right time to get up front and hang on for his second career victory at Daytona. He took the checkered under yellow-flag conditions after a vicious wreck froze the field on the final lap.
Who Should Have Won: Ryan Truex. After being sidelined for most of 2015, this former full-time Cup driver and younger brother of Martin Truex, Jr. stole the show during his Daytona comeback. Leading for 14 laps in the race’s second half, he wheeled a No. 81 Toyota into contention that has run but a handful of races in the Truck Series over the last few years. The final restart and some perfect restrictor plate timing, however, ruined his storybook return to Daytona.
Bell’s Flip Leaves Him Headed To Local Hospital For Evaluation
For Christopher Bell, Friday night had already seen him banged around like a pinball machine. The former dirt racer needed all his talents to make a save midway through the race where a bump sent his truck turning at a 90-degree angle. That in itself was stressful enough; a second incident, contact occurring while heading to pit road, left Bell involved in an incident that tore up a number of rookie trucks. It took several stops to put the No. 4 back together, yet heading to the last lap he was in contention for a top-10 finish… until, of course, incident number three.
Let’s just say the third time wasn’t the charm.
Contact up front started when Bell got turned into Timothy Peters and the resulting carnage sent his Toyota flipping almost instantaneously. 1,2, 3… 10 times, at least he went airborne until what was left stopped right-side up entering turn 1.
Bell wound up getting taken to a local hospital for evaluation and released. He’s got a few bumps and bruises but is otherwise OK in yet another example of how NASCAR safety has stepped up to the plate in recent years. The new SAFER Barrier on the inside wall was tested in that same wreck (the wall where Kyle Busch broke his leg last year) and all ended up unhurt.
One For The Underdogs
Friday night’s finishing order looked like a Who’s Who of “Who is that?” Names inside the top 12 included a list of forgotten former “young guns” in Truex (second), Parker Kligerman (third), and Scott Lagasse, Jr. (ninth); total surprises in Brandon Brown (fourth) and underfunded Tyler Young (sixth); a former champion driving a truck that barely made it to the track (Travis Kvapil, fifth); and a Frenchman named Michel Disdier (11th) whose celebration was unmatched (see below). Daytona typically jumbles up the top finishers but the sheer amount of surprises who made it through the wrecks and into the lead draft seemed higher than usual.
The end results might also lead to a better Truck Series overall. Both Truex and Kligerman could potentially wind up running full-time. Young’s team continues to develop as “the little engine that could” on the circuit. While other full-time teams suffered through disappointing DNQs (Mike Mittler’s No. 63 comes to mind) it’s clear there’s a healthy list of opportunities popping up so far for this division in 2016.
A number of young drivers were making their Daytona debut on Friday night and… it showed. Contact heading to pit lane where rookies couldn’t avoid one another wound up ending Cody Coughlin’s night. Only one rookie, Ben Rhodes cracked the top 10 while several others were caught up in major wrecks. It was a veteran, Timothy Peters that started a melee on lap 93 with a bad bump of Cameron Hayley but you need experience along with luck to avoid becoming a victim at Daytona. It seemed like the first-year drivers had neither. It’s a shame because conditions were ripe for anyone to succeed; multiple lines were working and at times trucks went three-wide in one of the more competitive races we’ve seen at Daytona in recent years.
* Caution Clock? What caution clock? Of course the new clock had a bit of an impact as Coughlin’s pit stop wreck was due to teams trying to “beat the clock” before the yellow flag. But the actual clock was never put into use as every wreck or debris caution (all legitimate) came out before it hit zero. Winning owner Maurice Gallagher was among those who felt the pits should be closed a few minutes before the clock hits zero to avoid a mass exodus down pit road. It would nullify drivers trying to take advantage of the impending yellow and staying out to get track position during the “clock caution.” God, clock caution. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
* Who says you have to win to have fun in NASCAR? Michel Disdier finished 11th but based on this celebration after the race, you would have thought he won. While several seconds off the pace all night, the man who has titled himself “The only Frenchman in NASCAR” celebrated his heritage and his moment, however small in the sun.
Truck Rookie Report
2016 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 00 Cole Custer
No. 4 Christopher Bell
No. 9 William Byron
No. 18 Cody Coughlin
No. 22 Austin Wayne Self
No. 33 Grant Enfinger
No. 41 Ben Rhodes
No. 98 Rico Abreu
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1 (Ben Rhodes, 7th)
Rookie of the Race: Grant Enfinger, finished 20th
Note: Only drivers declared for the Rookie of the Year battle are eligible for Rookie of the Race honors.
Yes, technically Rhodes ran inside the top 10 but Enfinger was far more impressive. After winning the pole, the reigning ARCA Racing series champ raced at or near the front until a bump from his own teammate started a domino effect that left him a “Big One” victim of circumstances.
Rookie Quote: “We had a great truck. I knew from the moment we unloaded. I felt like us and the 21 were the two fastest trucks in the race. We were getting runs and Johnny got an awkward run on the backstretch. I had to catch it to keep from hitting the wall, fell behind and then we got caught up in a wreck.” – Enfinger
Points Update: It’s weird to say it, but… Johnny Sauter is in the Chase! The win locks him into the new Truck playoff system provided he starts every race and finishes inside the top eight. Behind him the points are exactly what you’d expect; Michel Disdier cracks the top 10 only because Scott Lagasse, Jr. (ninth in the race) isn’t eligible to receive points in the Truck Series.
“I honestly believed that we could win [right out of the box]. I really felt that way. The first time I went to the race shop down in Statesville there, it’s unbelievable. I mean, all the resources that are at our disposal, in-house chassis shop with Leavitt and in-house body stuff and all the guys at the shop, you know, that’s kind of a rare commodity in the Truck Series. You just don’t see that.” – Johnny Sauter, winner
“I didn’t have a ride three weeks ago. At all. I had nothing. They called me up and said they wanted me to drive. I came in cautiously optimistic and we built a new KBM truck here and it was fast. This morning we were worried about making the race and tonight, we almost won it. So, my hat’s off to these guys.” – Ryan Truex, second
“I know it’s cliché, but you’ve got to be very grateful for an opportunity like this to hop in equipment that is on the up. Last year they had their best year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in terms of getting top 10s, running up front and that sort of thing. So to have this opportunity to come out here to Daytona for a bit of a hiatus and doing more TV stuff was a lot of fun.” – Parker Kligerman, third for Ricky Benton Racing
“I was just envisioning us coming out here, not trying to make any enemies, learn how to race in the draft because I had never run in the draft before I raced this race tonight. I didn’t even get to practice in the draft we were so focused on our qualifying, just to make the show. But you know, getting there we just wanted to finish the race, keep the truck in one piece, have something to take to Talladega. This team, they just put me in the spot I needed to be in and we put the truck where we needed it to come out with a top 5.” – Brandon Brown, fourth
“We know there’s going to be a big wreck at some point. It’s not a question of if, it’s when. So our strategy was just to ride around in the back of the lead pack all day and that’s exactly what we did. Even with ten to go, we discussed it on the radio and I’m like, ‘No, they’re still going to wreck. Let’s be patient.’ There’s a lot of younger drivers in this field, they start getting impatient, they get to pushing and shoving and that’s exactly what happened. So, we stayed out of the wreck, we stayed out of trouble and we put ourselves in a good position. So I’m pretty pleased with it.” – Travis Kvapil, fifth
“I figured we’d just ride around, try to be safe. I’ve done it for three years now and it’s bit me all three years. We finally did it and it paid off.” – Tyler Young, sixth
“When the dust settled there, we’ll take it. We had two solid opportunities to get really tore up and not finish, so we’ll take it. Just really proud of the heart these guys showed. We made a great call there early to get some track position, played the caution clock to perfection. We came out there on the front row for the next restart. We just didn’t quite have enough single-truck speed to pull a pack; we really shoved really good. But as wild as these places get, we’ll take our top 10 and start racing next week at Atlanta.” – Daniel Hemric, seventh
“I love how these Trucks drive, they suck up well and a lot more messing around with the air. The air is so much more of a big deal with these trucks, the eyesight’s different. So it’s a totally new game here and then you’re racing against the best guys in the world on circle tracks. So it’s really cool to be a part of that and I’m really excited for the rest of the year.” – Austin Wayne Self, 19th
“Yeah, I thought we had a pretty fast Haas Automation Chevy. We were trying to be really conservative right there and then we tried to come through the pack and we just got caught up in somebody else’s mess. That’s just how it is sometimes. But we had a really fast truck and we’ll go on to Atlanta and try to win there.” – Cole Custer, 24th, wrecked
“The 17 [Timothy Peters] got in the back of us. I don’t think it was his fault. It was just part of superspeedway racing, I guess. I was pretty confident. Our Tundra was so good all day I think we could have just stayed on the bottom and at least tried to push the 81 to a win. We would have been happy with a third or fourth-place finish there but I guess it happens.” – Cameron Hayley, 25th, wrecked
“I was trying to be aggressive, I was trying to lay it all out, not keep anything because I wasn’t points racing, I was just racing for the win. I got caught up three-wide there and then we got shuffled back. But we had the speed to come back and there wasn’t any question there. But plate racing, once you get three-wide, anything can happen.” – Austin Theriault, 27th
Up Next: There’s no rest for the weary as the Trucks head straight to Atlanta for a Saturday afternoon showdown. The Great Clips 200 will be shown at 4:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 and can be listened to on your local MRN affiliate.