“This is the biggest win of my career.”
Ben Rhodes scored his fourth win in the Camping World Truck Series Friday evening after winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
The start of the 2021 season began with a bang as Tanner Gray suffered a mechanical issue at the drop of the green flag, which led to a chain reaction involving Gus Dean and 2012 truck champion James Buescher. Derek Kraus was involved as well, but didn’t receive much damage, but Buescher and Gray’s evening ended before it started.
After the incident, stage one played out relatively calm as Raphael Lessard earned the first 10 points of the season with the stage win. Two of his GMS Racing teammates in Zane Smith and Tyler Ankrum bailed out of the draft during the stage as they were not comfortable with their cars in the pack.
A short stage two, thanks to a handful of caution laps saw John Hunter Nemechek grab the stage win in his Kyle Busch Motorsports truck.
During the stage, Kraus added two more incidents on the night after contact on pit road with rookie Kris Wright and a cut tire in turns three and four.
However, the difficult night didn’t end for Kraus as he cut another tire coming off turn four and suffered severe right-side damage. Ryan Truex spun in the incident, but suffered no damage.
While restarts continuously built momentum toward the finish, drivers never found a groovee to settle in as cautions camee within a few laps after those runs began.
The string of yellow flags began with an incident between Austin Wayne Self and Jordan Anderson. On the ensuing restart, Bryan Dauzat started in the front row and Tyler Ankrum attempted to get around him, but was turned by Todd Gilliland. Defending champion Sheldon Creed was caught in the incident after contact with Jason White.
The race seemed to build toward the finish, but in turns one and two, Ben Rhodes made it four-wide on Todd Gilliland and there wasn’t enough room, causing Gilliland to go around and collect Stewart Friesen. Tate Fogleman collected damage in the wreck as well.
Truck series rookie Hailie Deegan was having a nice night running the bottom line and hanging around in the second pack to learn the ropes and get used to driving at Daytona in a truck, but with 20 laps to go, she spun out down the backstretch and hit the inside retaining wall.
With the laps winding down, the storm was brewing as drivers were pushing hard and getting each other loose to get to the lead. Chandler Smith and Grant Enfinger led the two lanes and doored each other off turn four, causing tire rubs for both drivers. Smith went around going into turn one, but avoided the dreaded “Big One” as Timothy Peters came down on Drew Dollar and turned back into the racetrack and collected numerous contenders. Nemechek, Austin Hill, Carson Hocevar, Johnny Sauter, Lessard and Ankrum were all involved in the wreck.
Overtime was engaged as drivers had two laps to race to the win.
Rhodes got out to a big lead on the restart, but had help from his Thorsport teammate in Matt Crafton. However, with the help of Cory Roper, Creed was able to get to the front, but was then passed by Roper at the bell lap.
Roper was on the brink of an underdog win as he tried to hold off Thorsport, but coming off turn four, Rhodes got a big run on Roper and was able to get to the outside of Roper and pass him to take the win as the rest of the field wrecked behind them.
For a second year in a row, Jordan Anderson finished second in a photo finish after sitting outside the top 10 at the start of the final lap.
“Big One” No. 2 at the checkers involved Crafton, Enfinger, Zane Smith, Chandler Smith, Dollar, Wright, Self and David Gilliland.
Roper finished third, which is his best finish in the truck series. Truex and Hocevar rounded out the top five – a career-high for Hocevar.
Rounding out the top 10 was Creed, Nemechek, Codie Rohrbaugh, Chandler Smith and Dollar in that order.
The truck series will remain at Daytona Beach and switch to the road course next Friday under the lights.