The 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series officially got underway on Friday night with the NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway. In a race filled with wrecks (excluding the two stage breaks, there were eight cautions) and an overtime session, Ben Rhodes kept a pair of underdog owner/drivers at bay when he held off Jordan Anderson and Cory Roper coming to the finish.
Rhodes started twenty-third while ThorSport Racing team-mate Johnny Sauter won the pole. Roper, who is running the full schedule with his Roper Racing team for the first time, was further back in thirt-first while Anderson, who is racing full-time in the Xfinity Series with his Jordan Anderson Racing operation but will continue fielding a Truck programme, was twentieth.
Chaos unfolded immediately when Tanner Gray failed to go at the green flag due to a drivetrain problem and stacked up Gus Dean and James Buescher, knocking all three out of the race quite literally out of the gate.
Sauter led the first half of Stage #1 before Raphaël Lessard did so to the green-checkered flag. While Lessard won at Talladega last season, this marked the first career stage win for the new GMS Racing driver. Team-mate and reigning champion Sheldon Creed finished second, followed by defending race winner Grant Enfinger, John Hunter Nemechek, Sauter, Rhodes, Chandler Smith, David Gilliland, Stewart Friesen, and Timothy Peters. Creed and Friesen in their GMS and Halmar Friesen Racing rides and the ThorSport trio of Enfinger, Sauter, and Rhodes were the only constants from 2020 as everyone else was with a new team; Gilliland was making his first Trucks start since 2019 while Enfinger had scaled back to a part-time schedule.
Stage #2 was the Nemechek show as he led all but two laps in the segment-Lessard and Rhodes were the exceptions. Derek Kraus spun on lap 36 for the second caution of the race. Nemechek, who joined Kyle Busch Motorsports and returned to the Trucks after one season in the Cup Series, would take the stage victory ahead of Sauter, Lessard, Rhodes, Creed, Smith, Austin Hill, Peters, Enfinger, and Tyler Ankrum.
The final stage would explode into turmoil as six caution flags were flown, five of which were for multi-truck accidents; the lone single-driver incident was for rookie Hailie Deegan‘s spin. Speedy dry to clean the track only exacerbated matters when it instead clouded vision on the backstretch, essentially becoming a sand-like smokescreen that can easily produce jokes about the Daytona Beach and Road Course that NASCAR raced on prior to the speedway’s construction. At the front, twenty-three lead changes took place throughout the stage, and only Smith would lead double-digit laps in one run with fourteen (he led a raace-high twenty-two in total).
On lap 96, Peters made contact with Drew Dollar as the field exited turn two, triggering a massive wreck that set up overtime. Creed led the first lap after getting a run by Rhodes, but fell back after losing the draft in the middle. The 43-year-old Roper, seeking his first win, took advantage to take the lead and establish a brief cushion on Rhodes.
As the leaders came to the finish, fifth-placed Zane Smith was squeezed into the wall by the ThorSport duo of Enfinger and Matt Crafton, and other trucks around them bunched up; Tate Fogleman collided with Dollar who in turn hit Enfinger and wedged Smith and company between the wall and wrecking trucks. Before going into the wall, Dollar provided enough of a push for Rhodes to catch Roper and pass him with feet before the finish for the win, while Anderson did the same on the inside to take second in a three-wide finish.
It is Rhodes’ fourth career win and first at Daytona. For ThorSport, it was a strong first race for their return to Toyota.
“This is so special,” Rhodes told FS1. “Biggest win of my career, I can’t even believe this. As a driver, you’re always asked what your biggest accomplishment is. This is it, hands down. This is the place to be. I can’t even believe it.
“I’m gonna soak it up for as long as I can. That Darlington win went by too fast, and you just don’t know when you’re gonna get it again, but I’m gonna enjoy this night. Best night of my life right here.”
Anderson finishes runner-up at Daytona for the second year in a row, once again a career best; his 2020 finish also came down to a photo finish with a ThorSport truck (Enfinger in the previous year’s race) winning. Roper’s third is also a career high.
“I need to go back to Chevrolet and see if they can make these Silverados a little longer,” Anderson remarked in his interview. His 2020 post-race interview was highly praised by fans and media for the energy and excitement in his delivery. “Two years in a row to finish second here. It’s a dream come true. […]
“Back in December, we decided that we wanted to start an Xfinity team up, and we were literally this close to shutting down our Truck programme and (crew chief) Bruce Cook and I got started talking. Bruce was looking to do something and I said, ‘Let’s just keep this Truck programme going.’ I got to try to qualify in tomorrow with our Xfinity programme, we’re #31, it’s… […]
“I’m almost speechless. So much energy, so much emotion to see what got us done in my life and my career. I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be racing in a national series. Coming from Columbia, South Carolina, nobody in my family raced, my dad’s here with me. To go through all that we’ve gone through, to never give up. […] ‘What would I say is my story?’ It’s for every kid that races late models, legend cars, dirt late models out there, never give up. If you want to be here, just keep digging.
“I’ve got so many people to thank, [FS1] would probably start playing the exit music on me. Just so amazing to be here. We were like twelfth on the final lap! […] Going Xfinity racing, second at Daytona, let’s go!”
|1||23||99||Ben Rhodes||ThorSport Racing||Toyota||101||Running|
|2||20||3||Jordan Anderson*||Jordan Anderson Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|3||31||04||Cory Roper||Roper Racing||Ford||101||Running|
|4||25||40||Ryan Truex||Niece Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|5||12||42||Carson Hocevar #||Niece Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|6||2||2||Sheldon Creed||GMS Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|7||7||4||John Hunter Nemechek||Kyle Busch Motorsports||Toyota||101||Running|
|8||26||9||Codie Rohrbaugh||CR7 Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|9||6||18||Chandler Smith||Kyle Busch Motorsports||Toyota||101||Running|
|10||17||51||Drew Dollar||Kyle Busch Motorsports||Toyota||101||Running|
|11||3||98||Grant Enfinger||ThorSport Racing||Toyota||101||Running|
|12||27||02||Kris Wright||Young’s Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|13||24||20||Spencer Boyd||Young’s Motorsports||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|14||13||17||David Gilliland||David Gilliland Racing||Ford||101||Running|
|15||14||88||Matt Crafton||ThorSport Racing||Toyota||101||Running|
|16||8||21||Zane Smith||GMS Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|17||32||30||Danny Bohn||On Point Motorsports||Toyota||101||Running|
|18||16||10||Jennifer Jo Cobb||Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|19||28||28||Bryan Dauzat||FDNY Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|20||35||33||Jason White||Reaume Brothers Racing||Chevrolet||101||Running|
|21||19||22||Austin Wayne Self||AM Racing||Chevrolet||100||Running|
|22||18||16||Austin Hill||Hattori Racing Enterprises||Toyota||99||Running|
|23||5||24||Raphaël Lessard||GMS Racing||Chevrolet||99||Running|
|24||9||1||Hailie Deegan||David Gilliland Racing||Ford||98||Running|
|25||15||45||Brett Moffitt||Niece Motorsports||Chevrolet||96||Running|
|26||10||25||Timothy Peters||Rackley WAR||Chevrolet||95||DVP|
|27||1||13||Johnny Sauter||ThorSport Racing||Toyota||94||DVP|
|28||11||26||Tyler Ankrum||GMS Racing||Chevrolet||94||Accident|
|29||4||23||Chase Purdy||GMS Racing||Chevrolet||91||Electrical|
|30||30||12||Tate Fogleman||Young’s Motorsports||Chevrolet||73||DVP|
|31||21||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||71||Accident|
|32||29||52||Stewart Friesen||Halmar Friesen Racing||Toyota||71||Accident|
|33||33||19||Derek Kraus||McAnally-Hilgemann Racing||Toyota||56||DVP|
|34||34||56||Gus Dean||Hill Motorsports||Chevrolet||1||Accident|
|35||22||15||Tanner Gray||David Gilliland Racing||Ford||0||Drivetrain|
|36||36||44||James Buescher||Niece Motorsports||Chevrolet||0||Accident|
* – Ineligible for Truck points