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As the laps clicked away and the field inched closer and closer to the checkered flag during Friday night’s (Feb. 14) NextEra Energy 250, you could feel the intensity ramp up.
With less than three laps remaining, that pressure finally reached a boiling point.
A three-wide charge for the lead ended in contact between ThorSport Racing teammates Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter, triggering the third Big One on the night for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. This time, 14 trucks were collected along the way at Daytona International Speedway, more than half the field still running as it decimated the lead pack.
The Big One™
— NASCAR Camping World Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) February 15, 2020
For Dean, the wreck prematurely ended his first race with Hill Motorsports in a truck that “was two frame rails sitting on a fab table about a month ago.”
“Three-wide, probably 10 rows deep. Coming to three to go at Daytona, that pretty much spells it out,” Dean explained when asked what he thought caused the incident. “The guys really pulled it through for me, worked hard to give me a fast truck. It was like a warm knife through butter, it cut right up through the field just like I wanted it to. Just unfortunate cause my guys worked so hard.”
After racing full-time in the Truck Series last year with Young’s Motorsports, Dean is only competing part-time with Hill Motorsports this season with only Daytona confirmed. He said the team is working on sponsorship for additional starts.
“It’s looking like we’re probably going to be able to do Talladega,” he said. “I think Charlotte will be the one we work on after that.”
After making the playoffs and winning the Rookie of the Year Award last year with DGR-Crosley, Ankrum joined GMS Racing during the offseason. But after finishing second and third, respectively in the first two stages, he was left to settle with a 27th-place finish and his truck on a wrecker.
Even with the sour ending, though, Ankrum was overjoyed to race at the superspeedway for the first time.
“Just another Daytona mixup. I’m glad I finally got to race here though,” he said. “I was pushing my teammate Sheldon Creed down in [turn] 1. We seemed alright, I was pushing him and we were getting a really good run. I was getting back to the [No.] 2 and we all just checked up. I checked up right underneath him. Everyone checked up really hard. It just seemed like I slammed really hard from behind. Then we got caught up in the wreck.”
Until the crash occurred, Ankrum and Creed worked together during that run. When the checkered flag flew, Creed finished ninth and fellow GMS Racing driver Zane Smith wound up 11th after having to make an earlier unscheduled pit stop due to his window net coming undone. Ankrum noted the organization’s strong performance, the crash notwithstanding.
“Honestly, I really wish people could strap helmets on like we can and race here,” he said. “There’s no better view than coming out of turn 4 at Daytona. It was a really cool first experience. Vegas – [Las Vegas Motor Speedway] – is next. It goes to show what we can do at GMS [Racing]. We ran up front the entire time in this race. I’m really excited for when we get to Vegas.”
In his lone start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last fall, Ankrum started 16th, finished 10th and ninth in the first two stages, and ultimately walked away 11th.
Rookie Tanner Gray also tried to keep a positive outlook, despite some missteps during the race as he exited the infield care center.
“It was really cool,” he said regarding his first time competing at Daytona. “Obviously we – especially me [I] – have to do better. Overall, I was semi-pleased with how everything went down. I just wish we could have been on the other side of things. I made a lot of mistakes on pit road and definitely got to do better there. I looked like I’d never done it before like I didn’t know what I was doing.
“Definitely need to clean that up and a few other odds and ends and then we’ll be going in the right direction. When you come here, you want to do good and we didn’t do that today. We’re here to win and when we don’t, it’s frustrating especially when those mistakes are your fault.”
As a 20-year-old rookie, Gray will be visiting many of the tracks on the Truck Series circuit for the first time this season, including the next race venue, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.