In a Nutshell: Austin Hill won 2019’s second running of the 24 Hours of Daytona (thanks for that line, Chase Briscoe), throwing a successful block on Grant Enfinger in the second overtime to score his first career win in his debut race with Hattori Racing Enterprises. Ross Chastain, Spencer Boyd and Matt Crafton rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Austin Hill. For one, Hill had the cleanest truck left standing (and when the checkers flew, there were only 10 trucks left on track, period). But Hill, who has been under a microscope for replacing a championship-winning driver thanks largely to sponsorship rather than on-track results, proved he belonged at the front of the field on Friday night. Hill was able to effectively run both lines of the draft and to block at will while up front. Hill’s still got plenty to prove on intermediate ovals moving forward, but Hill delivered for his team in a very big way.
The first yellow flag of what would be 11 that slowed the field on Friday night came only four laps in, and it was ugly. In the span of a lap, both Bryan Dauzat and Robby Lyons made hard contact with the Turn 1 wall, while the DGR-Crosley trucks of David Gilliland and Natalie Decker both had to pit for flat tires. Decker’s truck, riding on the left front rim, caught fire as she got to pit road, forcing her crew to yank her from the cockpit.
— #ReadySetGO (@NASCAR_Trucks) February 16, 2019
Meanwhile, Dauzat made his way to pit road without brakes and struck his jackman, Billy Rock, in a vicious collision. Fortunately, the injured crewman was reported as awake and alert when he was transported from the infield care center to a local hospital for further evaluation.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 16, 2019
That melee set the tone for what would be a catastrophic night for the Truck Series. Two Big Ones were the headline of the incidents seen on track; the first came on lap 55, when Jordan Anderson, who was observed by some in the field to have cut a tire, lost control of his truck in Turn 4 and course corrected into traffic, sending his No. 3 hard into the wall and triggering a melee that damaged or destroyed 12 trucks. Anderson was slow to exit his vehicle but was later cleared by the infield care center.
Following a lengthy cleanup and another short yellow when Christian Eckes’ engine expired, the race saw its best, albeit short, stretches of green flag racing, with Hill and Ben Rhodes waging a furious battle up front for the lead that saw both drivers doing their best Brad Keselowski impressions, controlling the front of the draft with furious blocks across multiple lanes.
Sadly, with more wrecks marring the final 15 laps, the race saw a second Big One on lap 100 that collected most of the leaders, including Sheldon Creed, Rhodes, David Gilliland and Stewart Friesen. The first overtime yielded another crash, as Austin Wayne Self spun Bobby Gerhart after he got loose on Turn 2 exit, resulting in a second overtime that saw the field finally take the white flag and Hill hold off a hard-charging Grant Enfinger to score the trophy.
Hill leaves Daytona with the points lead over Enfinger and Boyd, all of whom are expected to run full time in 2019.
Jury’s Out on New-Look ThorSport Racing
When the dust finally settled and the second overtime went green, ThorSport Racing appeared to be in the driver’s seat to score the win, with veterans Enfinger and Crafton in line and working together. The duo was unable to make the final pass for the checkers, but at night’s end putting two trucks in the top five (hell, having two trucks finish) was a significant accomplishment. Johnny Sauter won a stage before retiring with crash damage, Myatt Snider scored points in both stages and Rhodes proved a force up front when leading the draft.
Having said all that, five trucks is new ground for ThorSport, and it’s clear that there are some rough edges to hone with the operation. Sauter did win another stage at Daytona, his fourth in the last three Daytona truck races, but he failed to score points in the first stage. That might not seem a big deal, but it’s the first time Sauter has ever not scored points in a Daytona stage ever. Sauter has proven successful in the past driving for ThorSport, but his No. 13 team is not up to the type of form Sauter will need to duplicate his red hot start from 2018.
And then there’s Crafton, who’s fast becoming the Jimmie Johnson of the Truck Series – though to his credit, no one felt the wrath of his bumper at Speedweeks – a veteran who while still capable is no longer the man to beat. Crafton was audibly frustrated and derogatory toward just about every driver around him in the draft on Friday night, especially with regard to Clay Greenfield, expressing a lack of confidence in every driver drafting with him and demanding to be surrounded by better trucks, even though Crafton’s truck proved to be less than the class of the field. Crafton and team spent qualifying swearing through a slower than expected run that saw their truck dragging unexpectedly, and at race’s end Crafton was unable to set up a run to pass Hill for the win, despite having a teammate in the fold.
The raw talent is there for this team to be a juggernaut in 2019. But right now the younger crop of drivers appears to be the most stable. It remains to be seen whether that model will work for a team that’s long leaned on its veterans.
The Curious Case of Angela Ruch
The way the video cameras were following a woman driver around, one would be forgiven if they thought Danica Patrick was making a return to NASCAR racing. Instead, it was a NASCAR film crew following around Angela Ruch, Derrike Cope’s niece who’s made sporadic starts in the Xfinity and Truck series since 2010. Ruch, who’s the subject of a NASCAR documentary, was the star attraction in the Truck Series garage, made her first start with NEMCO Motorsports in the team’s flagship No. 8 truck, the best equipment she has ever driven.
And in terms of the stat sheet, Ruch delivered, scoring a career-best eighth-place finish after surviving the countless wrecks and a growing engine issue that had the team telling Ruch to deliberately be slow going through the gears during the final three restarts of the race. Ruch’s finish was the second-best by a woman in Truck Series history and the first top 10 for a woman in the series since 2011. And Ruch successfully navigated some treacherous three-wide situations in the mid-stretch of the race.
Ruch even admitted to her “green” status as a racer in post-race remarks, noting that while it sounded funny to say she didn’t know how to save fuel despite racing in big leagues NASCAR, that this opportunity with NEMCO Motorsports was the first real one “she’d been given” in her career.
What makes this case curious is how elementary some of her questions and demands of her team were despite making a superspeedway start. For all the demands NASCAR puts (or at least used to put) on licensing to run the superspeedways, to have a driver on track that was asking her spotter to tell her when to stop turning the wheel during qualifying, who lost the draft unintentionally within two laps after being forced to start on the high line for the first time (away from the natural ally of the yellow line), and who hadn’t raced in a truck since 2010 is a bit shocking.
That it’s being celebrated as something to make a documentary about is even more shocking. And I’d wager that one scene they’ll leave out of the documentary was when Ruch’s team owner, Joe Nemechek, remarked on the team radio when told she was leading the race on pit strategy that “this is a caution waiting to happen. They [the No. 8 team] shouldn’t be up there trying.”
I wrote last week in discussing Leilani Munter’s retirement special brought to you by Fox that the racing community continues to do a disservice to women drivers with the “subtle sexism of diminished expectations.” Here, it’s more of the same. Women racing is not unique and special anymore. It’s been done. Women finishing in the top 10 has been done. Women finishing in the top 10 at Daytona has been done.
Back in 1949, race winner Curtis Turner invited Sara Christian to Victory Lane at the Heidelberg Raceway after she posted a top-five finish. Fast forward to 2019, and we’re making climatic interview scenes about women scoring eighth-place finishes. If the true goal is to put women drivers on equal footing and to have them break through in the big leagues, this special treatment has to stop.
Daytona on Fire
With the myriad of crashes that were observed on Friday night, there was an unusual number of fires associated with them. Decker’s truck caught fire after riding on a tire rim. Eckes’ truck caught fire when his engine expired. Creed’s truck caught fire after his involvement in the second Big One. David Gilliland’s truck was on fire and had to be extinguished when he made it to pit road with late crash damage. Whether it was because of low ride heights, the severity of the crashes or the fact that making 2.5-mile laps from crashes to get to pit road leaves plenty of time for vehicles to heat up, fire was prevalent at Daytona on Friday. Nothing went wrong with response this evening, but it’s a call to remain vigilant on this front.
The Overtime Lottery
I’ve argued it before in the ARCA Menards Series, and I’ll argue it here again. The ridiculous length that overtime is extending races is a threat to the legitimacy of big-league auto racing. Scott Zippadelli’s professed commitment in post-race remarks to keep his driver on the track despite fuel concerns, but what that demonstrates is that Zippy remains driven to win. It does not demonstrate strategic mastery or a brilliant call to change a race. That’s the case for any race that gets extended by more than 20 miles beyond its scheduled distance. The crew chiefs that plan for fuel strategy on how many cautions will be seen late in the going are lucky, not brilliant.
What these extended overtimes do to races, especially given how many laps it takes NASCAR nowadays to line up a field, is to make them even more of a crapshoot than they are on late restarts. If the idea is to make the finish unpredictable, mission accomplished. But that comes at the cost of genuine race strategy. It’s a high price to pay for a few more laps of green.
- Top 10 finishers Hill, Boyd, Josh Reaume and Ruch all scored career-best finishes.
- Nine trucks were running at the finish of Friday’s race.
- Former ARCA regulars Creed and Gus Dean made noise before succumbing to crash damage; Creed won the first stage while Dean was running as high as third despite heavy fender damage.
- Greenfield drove across the infield grass to his pit stall late in the race when his hood popped open and obscured his windshield.
- Brett Moffitt’s 26th-place finish was the worst for a defending champion in the Daytona truck race since Jack Sprague finished 33rd in the 2000 Daytona 250.
2019 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
No. 02 – Tyler Dippel
No. 2 – Sheldon Creed
No. 12 – Gus Dean
No. 17 – Tyler Ankrum
No. 18 – Harrison Burton
No. 54 – Anthony Alfredo/Natalie Decker
Number of Rookies in the Race: 5
Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 0
Rookie of the Race: Sheldon Creed Though Creed was involved in the contact that sparked the second Big One, the 2018 ARCA champion proved adept in the draft, winning the first stage and contending for the win late into the going. Creed tore the ARCA Series apart in the second half of 2018, and looked every bit the driver that earned his promotion to the Truck ranks Friday night.
Up Next: The Truck Series will return to action next Saturday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway as part of a doubleheader with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The truck race is slated to green at 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 pending completion of the Xfinity race.