With a gaggle of trucks wrecking behind him as the field approached the finish line, Ben Rhodes shot past Cory Roper in the tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway to win Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250, the 2021 season opener for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
With a decisive push from ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton on the final lap of an overtime shootout, Rhodes had more than enough momentum to charge past Roper in the final 400 yards. Likewise, Jordan Anderson blew past Roper into second place, .036 seconds behind the winner, as Roper held third for a career-best result.
“This is so special — the biggest win of my career,” Rhodes exulted after climbing from his truck. “I can’t even believe this. As a driver, you’re always asked about what your biggest accomplishment is… This is it. This is hands-down it. This is the place to be. I can’t even believe it.”
The win was the first for ThorSport after an offseason switch from Ford to Toyota.
“We came back to Toyota and we won in our first race with them at ThorSport,” Rhodes said. “I can’t thank (owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson enough for this opportunity. This is special. I’m going to soak it up for as long as I can. I’m going to enjoy this night. Best night of my life right here.”
Without Crafton’s help, Rhodes said, he couldn’t have claimed his first win at Daytona and the fourth of his career.
“Thanks goodness I had my teammate, Matt Crafton, behind me, because he’s a stud,” Rhodes said. “He’s been around a long time, and he knows what he’s doing.”
Anderson was a close runner-up for the second straight year, matching his career-best finish.
“I’m almost speechless,” said an elated Anderson, who was anything but tongue-tied. “So much energy, so much emotion…”
A multi-truck wreck on Lap 95 of the scheduled 100 ended the winning chances of a handful of contenders. Chandler Smith spun into the infield, and behind him, a vicious crash ended the race for Tyler Ankrum and heavily damaged the trucks of Timothy Peters, Austin Hill and three-time Daytona winner Johnny Sauter.
The trucks of Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Carson Hocevar and John Hunter Nemechek also were victims of the crash, but they recovered to finish fifth and seventh, respectively. Ryan Truex ran fourth, followed by Hocevar, defending series champion Sheldon Creed, Nemechek, Codie Rohrbaugh, Smith and Drew Dollar.
Crafton, a three-time series champion, was collected in the overtime wreck and finished 15th. Twenty-eight laps earlier, he was part of a wreck that eliminated a pair of strong entries. With trucks running in a perilous four-wide array on Lap 72, Crafton nosed up the track after a slight tap from Nemechek and bumped the left rear quarter of Todd Gilliland’s Ford. Gilliland spun and collected the trucks of Stewart Friesen and Tate Fogleman behind him, and in the process, Brett Moffitt’s Chevrolet was pinched into the outside wall. The trucks of Gilliland and Friesen were wrecked too severely to continue.
Racing for the second time in six years, 2012 series champion James Buescher was out of the event before he reached the start-finish line to begin the race. With his No. 44 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet destroyed in a four-truck wreck right after the initial start, Buescher exited without completing a lap.
Joining him on the sidelines were Tanner Gray, who spun during the early incident, and Gus Dean, whose truck was damaged too badly to continue. Derek Kraus recovered from a spin in that early crash in what was to become an adventuresome night for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota.
Kraus caused two more cautions with spins and collided with the truck of rookie Kris Wright on pit road before taking his truck to the garage in 33rd place.
The Camping World Truck Series’ next race is scheduled next Friday, Feb. 19 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) back at Daytona, but on the 3.61-mile oval and road course layout.
Note: The No. 99 ThorSport Racing Toyota passed post-race technical inspection Friday night after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ NextEra Energy 250 at the Daytona International Speedway. There were no other issues.
Contributing: Staff reports