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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Tracking the Trucks: Underdogs Shine as Johnny Sauter Surges at Daytona

In a Nutshell: The NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday (Feb. 16) was the typical wreck-fest it tends to be be. Many NASCAR Camping World Truck Series stars crashed, including Matt Crafton, Noah Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek, and Stewart Friesen.

Their tough luck opened the door for underdogs of the series, as seven of Friday’s top-10 finishers have never won a CWTS race. Despite that, it was 2016 Truck champion Johnny Sauter who survived the mayhem. The veteran won his third race at Daytona and the 18th of his career.

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Who Should Have Won: David Gilliland, running a one-off in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4, started the race from the pole and was one of the fastest trucks all night. It seemed like restrictor plate tracks owed him one. After all, Gilliland won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2007 and pushed David Ragan to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway in 2013.

Gilliland won the first stage and led 30 laps, but his night ended when teammate Spencer Davis bumped him a little too hard in the corner. Gilliland lost control of the truck and slid up into the wall, ending his shot at a win.

The race could have been Gilliland’s last chance at a win in NASCAR, a goal he has only accomplished one other time in his career in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series. At 41 years old, Gilliland’s focus has shifted from his career to son Todd‘s.

Race Rundown

Sauter Locks Himself into the Playoffs

For the second time in three years, Sauter won the season-opening race to guarantee a playoff spot and establish himself as an early championship favorite.

Sauter led a race-high 39 laps at Daytona, but he still had to work hard to earn the win. He won the second stage of the race but was challenged throughout by Gilliland. John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Haley and Dalton Sargeant also took turns trying to steal the race from Sauter, but the wily veteran would not be stopped.

Sauter made a daring move underneath Gilliland on lap 92, and once he took the lead, he was off to the checkered flag.

Big Day for the Underdogs…

The top-15 of the race was a who’s who of underfunded teams. Joe Nemechek finished in third place in the race, his best result since 2014. Nemechek is typically a start-and-park entry in CWTS, but it marks back-to-back top fives at Daytona for the elder Nemechek. Last season, he ran the second truck simply to help fund the primary truck of son John Hunter. With the younger Nemechek crashing out Friday night, the third-place finish could really help the team.

Further back, Scott Lagasse Jr. contended for the lead and put his Young’s Motorsports No. 20 in fifth place. After seven years in the series, it marked the team’s first top-five result.

Independent Jordan Anderson laid back for most of the race but emerged into the top five with less than 10 laps to go. It looked at one point like Anderson could win, but he eventually spun coming to the checkered flag and dropped to ninth. It was still a career-best finish, and more importantly, Anderson avoided hitting anything to preserve his primary car.

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Justin Fontaine, Austin Hill, Wendell Chavous, Robby Lyons, Norm Benning, and Scott Stenzel took positions 10-15 to top off the night of underdogs.

…and the Young Guns

Haley led laps before finishing runner-up to his teammate Sauter. Ben Rhodes almost won and finished fourth. Spencer Davis was seventh in his debut, and Sargeant finished eighth. It looked as though any one of them could have won the race throughout the night.

Quick Hits:

  • Friday marked the end of an era for FDNY Racing. The team confirmed Daytona was the final Truck Series race for its No. 28, ending a part-time NASCAR effort that’s lasted over 30 years. Team owner Jim Rosenblum has been an owner in NASCAR since 1983. He first fielded Jocko Maggiacomo in the former Winston Cup series in the 1980s, the driver best known for wrecking with Bobby Allison in a 1988 Pocono crash that ended the Hall of Famer’s career. Rosenblum later fielded cars for Randy LaJoie and a handful of other drivers. He was one of the founding members of the Truck Series, where drivers such as Joe Ruttman, Carl Long, Andy Lally, Blake Koch and Ryan Ellis raced for him. FDNY’s No. 28 truck of Bryan Dauzat briefly ran in the top 10 before crashing Friday night. The team finished 18th in its swan song.
  • Jennifer Jo Cobb had a violent wreck when her No. 10 truck slammed into the inside wall and caught fire. Cobb was having a quiet day until Grant Enfinger got loose and spun out. Cobb was behind the spin and jumped on the brakes to try to miss it. When she did, Cobb lost control of the truck and went head on into the inside wall on the frontstretch. She climbed out of the vehicle but spent more than 90 minutes in the infield care center before she was eventually released.

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Truck Rookie Report
2018 Rookie of the Year Candidates

No. 13 Myatt Snider
No. 25 Dalton Sargeant
No. 45 Justin Fontaine
No. 54 Bo LeMastus

No. of Rookies in the race: 7 (add Robby Lyons, Bryan Dauzat and Spencer Davis)

No. of Rookies to finish in the top 10: 2 (Sargeant, eighth; Fontaine, 10th)

Rookie of the Race: Sargeant

Rookie Quotes from NextEra Energy Resources 250

Myatt Snider – “We enjoyed this weekend and we had a lot of fun with it,” Snider said after being released from the infield care center. “It’s just a shame it had to end that way.”

Spencer Davis – “It is really cool to race against drivers like Johnny Sauter, David Gilliland, and people I grew up watching and racing,” Davis said following his seventh-place finish. “To be out there out front and contending for the win in [a truck for] another one of my heroes (Kyle Busch), it was definitely a big deal, and hopefully I looked good in his eyes, and it opens the doors for more things.”

Dalton Sargeant – “We had an eventful night,” Sargeant said with a laugh. “You try and learn as much as you can, I was planning on staying with Johnny, but obviously things got shuffled up. We will be back in Atlanta [Motor Speedway], see what we can do there and see if we can’t get a win.”

Quotable

“We raced down here last year, and I think we finished fourth and fifth, all tore up. It’s just a good day whenever you can finish at Daytona and your truck doesn’t look like these other ones, man. I don’t think I have a mark on it, and it’s ready to go to Talladega [Superspeedway]. I love plate racing; I have always done really good at these places. In the Truck Series, it’s really tough, because there are so many young kids who just don’t know. Man, they are doing some stuff that just isn’t right. So you’ve gotta anticipate that.” Joe Nemechek, finished third

“I had a great engine, and GMS Racing helped us out a bunch. It is just kinda a shame that two trucks were gonna get together up there [at the finish] and I had to lift. I had a better truck than that, and I could’ve went up there and passed all of them, I just had to lift.” Norm Benning, finished 14th

“When we were in position, we were just where we wanted to be. The top two was where you wanted to be, and we were able to go to the back and make it back up there again. The bumpers just don’t line up very good, and it’s tough to push through the tri-oval. it’s a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see Todd (son) run out there.” David Gilliand, finished 21st

Up Next: The Truck Series moves on to the 1.5-mile oval of Atlanta for its first intermediate track race of the season. The Active Pest Control 200 will come your way Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Radio coverage can be found on SIRIUS XM 90 or your local PRN affiliate.

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About Michael Massie

Michael Massie
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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One comment

  1. FDNY IS DONE??? Why not sponsor a modified???? Sponsor a NASCAR MODIFIED TOUR CAR FULL TIME. They run TV events and they could probably be the main sponser of a Modified Tour operation instead of partime on the trucks. Imagine a Fire Truck Red FDNY MODIFIED!!! WOW.