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February 18, 2022

Top-five Daytona runs for Eckes, Gray sit differently with each driver

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Had the caution light not turned on right after the white flag waved, Christian Eckes thinks he could have caught and passed Zane Smith for the win Friday night at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener.

Instead, Eckes finished third — his first top five at Daytona — while Smith was credited with the first victory of 2022.

“I felt like I was in a good enough position with my teammate before he pulled out to be able to make a move coming to the checkered,” Eckes said. “But when he pulled out, I still felt like we had a pretty good shot being second.

“So, at the end of the day, we’re going to Vegas.”

RELATED: Zane Smith wins Daytona opener | Official results

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is indeed next on the schedule, set for March 4 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Eckes’ teammate, Ben Rhodes, placed second. All three of the top-three finishers led laps at some point, with Eckes leading the way in that small group with nine circuits around the 2.5-mile track out front. Rhodes was credited with six. Smith, three.

“We’ve build a really great team for the 98 with ThorSport Racing), and I’m super happy with everybody on our team,” Eckes said. “I think it’s just a sign of things to come.”

Tanner Gray came in fourth, and part-timer Parker Kligerman rounded out the top five.

Gray’s effort marked his sixth career top-five run in 49 starts. He’s in his third full-time season. Last season, he only had one top five. Season before, he had four.

“Every speedway race that we’ve been to, I don’t think we’ve even finished,” Gray said. “So it feels good to finally finish one and kind of have some luck go our way.”

He really hadn’t completed a superspeedway race before. His two previous Daytona starts resulted in DNFs. Same with Talladega Superspeedway.

“Headed in the right direction so far, but it’s a long season,” Gray said. “Just got to keep on top of things and try to minimize the mistakes on my part.”

Twelve of the 36 trucks did not finish the event running. A large wreck broke out on Lap 99 or 100 that involved 17 contenders, including John Hunter Nemechek, who swept both stages and paced a race-high 50 laps. He turned out 24th on the results sheet.

Eckes was in the lead at the time of the chaos, nearing the finish line, which could have ended the event then all then.

“I thought we were in a good position coming to the white as well,” Eckes said. “Came out little bit short.”