Ben Rhodes won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night by just .036 seconds over Jordan Anderson, who finished second by less than a car-length for the second-consecutive year.
Rhodes, 23, started 23rd and led seven of the race’s 101 laps en route to his fourth-career Truck Series win.
“This is so special — the biggest win of my career,” Rhodes said. “We came back to Toyota and we won in our first race with them at ThorSport. “I can’t thank [team owners] Duke and Rhonda Thorson enough for this opportunity. This is special.”
In the last mile of the race, Rhodes passed Cory Roper and faced a late charge from Jordan Anderson to take the victory.
For Anderson, this was the second straight Daytona race in the Truck series where he finished less than one-tenth of a second behind the leader.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge boost. We almost shut this truck deal down. We wanted to keep it going because we had so much blood, sweet and tears put into this program the last three years and wanted to keep it going to hopefully provide an opportunity for drivers like myself that just needed a shot to come run a truck some this year.”
For Roper, owner and driver of the no. 04 truck, his third-place finish was more than satisfactory despite losing the lead in the last half of a lap.
“You can’t be upset with a third in this series,” Roper said. “We were this close to not making it, right? We were the last truck making it on speed, which we knew we were going to be struggling. To get a good finish like that, you’ve got to be happy for your guys who work on it so hard.”
The race had 10 cautions which lasted a total of 43 laps – almost half of the race. The race also saw 31 lead changes between 12 drivers.
Stage 1 – 20 laps
As Johnny Sauter led the field to the green flag in his no. 13 Toyota Tundra, Tanner Gray couldn’t get his no. 15 truck going starting a chain-reaction crash in the first quarter of a lap, bringing the caution out on lap 1. James Buescher, who won the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona in 2012 and was making a long-awaited return to NASCAR, was involved in the chain-reaction accident with Derek Kraus and Gus Dean. Kraus and Dean were able to continue running, but Buescher’s night was over just as it started.
When the caution was lifted on lap 6, drivers didn’t hold back any because of the first-lap crash. Reigning series champion Sheldon Creed led the outside lane of trucks from the back of the top 10 up to second place to challenge for the lead, but it took the help of Creed’s teammate, Rapael Lessard, for the outside line to begin to pass the drivers on the inside, led by Sauter.
The GMS duo was joined at the front by another of their teammates in a Chevrolet Silverado, the no. 23 of rookie Chase Purdy. Creed tried to pass his teammate on the final lap of the stage, but Lessard was able to hold off the field for his first-ever stage win in the Camping World Truck Series.
Stage 2 – 20 laps
On a busy pit road under the stage end caution, Matt Crafton made contact with Timothy Peters, forcing the team to make repairs to the nose of his no. 88 Toyota. He received a penalty when his pit crew serviced the truck outside of their assigned pit box.
The green flag flew with Lessard leading the field, but the Daytona shuffle happened yet again. John Hunter Nemechek, who moved down from NASCAR’s Cup Series to take a top-tier ride in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, took the lead with the help of Sauter. The run under the green flag ended on lap 14 of the stage when Kraus lost a tire in turn 3 and spun into the grass.
Several teams took tires and fuel under the caution, including Hailie Deegan, which set up a two-lap dash to the finish of the stage.
Chandler Smith pushed Ben Rhodes to the front on the restart, but Nemechek made a run past Smith coming into the tri-oval to take the stage win and the playoff point that comes with it.
Race to the finish – 60 laps
The drivers who had pitted during the lap 34 caution stayed out, which gave Grant Enfinger the lead when the green flag flew on the final stage. David Gilliland pushed Tyler Ankrum out front and dropped to the inside to pass Ankrum to take the lead for himself, but Ankrum came right back on the outside to challenge for the top spot.
Just past the halfway point, Derek Kraus spun again with a second flat tire, bringing out the fifth caution of the night. Some drivers opted to pit for fuel under the caution in an attempt to stretch their fuel to the end, or at least to help make their next stopr shorter by putting in less fuel than their competitors on the next trip to pit road.
The green flag came back out with 43 laps to go, but it was just three laps before Jordan Anderson and Austin Wayne Self spun in the rear of the field, bringing the caution out yet again.
Pit road was busy as most drivers elected to make what they believed would be their final pit stop of the night with 38 laps remaining.
As soon as the green flag came out, it was put back away and traded for the yellow again. Tyler Ankrum spun off the bumper of Todd Gilliland, and while Ankrum didn’t receive much damage, a chain-reaction caused another crash at the rear of the field.
A trend began to form. Another caution came out after Todd Gilliland spun during a short green-flag run, which triggered a crash that also collected Stewart Friesen and Brett Moffitt. Hailie Deegan spun on the backstretch with 20 laps left, bringing out the ninth caution of the night.
With 15 laps remaining, Truck Series verteran Timothy Peters took control of the race, but the ThorSport trio of Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton made a run to the outside to challenge Peters, but with the intensity increasing and patience wearing thin, drivers became more and more aggressive. With 6 laps to go, the big one finally struck.
Peters and Drew Dollar made contact which spun Peter’s no. 25 across the track and in front of the field, collecting Austin Hill, Raphael Lessard, Tyler Ankrum, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter and Carson Hocevar.
The wreck required a lengthy clean up, forcing the field to go into overtime. Rhodes led the field to the two-lap dash to the finish with a push from Crafton. Sheldon Creed mounted a charge on the outside, but his pusher, Cory Roper made a move to take the lead for himself. Coming out of turn four for the last time, a second wreck involving multiple trucks occurred. Rhodes used the draft to slingshot himself around the outside of Roper to take the checkered flag first, and Jordan Anderson used momentum to pass Roper in the final few feet to take home second-place for the second year in a row at Daytona.
Featured photo credit: John Raoux/AP Photo