A 19-car incident as the field approached the white flag signaling one lap to go instead sent Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season-opener into overtime where 22-year old Californian Zane Smith won under caution over defending series champion Ben Rhodes.
A nearly 16-minute red flag was needed to clean up all the debris from the frontstretch melee, which happened only a few feet before the start/finish line and littered much of the track’s tri-oval. Had Smith – the leader at the time – crossed the line before the wreck began, the race would have ended. Instead, the remaining cars that were able to continue, continued.
So Smith had to do it all over again. He lined up alongside Eckes for the final two-lap run to the checkered. A sturdy nudge from behind from Parker Kligerman sent Smith’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford-150 to the front and he was able to pull away – taking the white flag before caution flew on the final lap. He led only three laps on the night – including the important last two.
“It’s something else, man,” Smith said of winning at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. “This place is its own, I’ll tell you that. Literally my heart hurt during that red flag. I thought we had it.
“Just hats off to this whole group. They’ve really put the work in and it’s so damn cool to see when it pays off. Man, this is going to be a really fun year and I’m going to try and make it a record year for myself.”
Eckes finished third. Former National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) standout Tanner Gray and Kligerman rounded out the top-five. Carson Hocevar, Jesse Little, polesitter Ty Majeski, Danny Bohn and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top-10. This was DiBenedetto’s career first start in the series.
Kligerman, who was the last driver to qualify for the race on speed, started 31st and rallied into the top five ultimately giving that winning push to Smith, who now has four victories and was championship runner-up last year. It was the kind of dramatic racing – there were 18 lead changes – and finish that fans have come to expect of Truck races on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway high banks and it did not disappoint.
“This is just huge to get this momentum,” said Kligerman, a part-time series competitor who also does national racing broadcast work for NBC.
He was particular proud of Friday’s effort considering his truck team has only one fulltime employee.
“It’s just such an honor” Kligerman said. “I’m so grateful to have the chance to just show up here, let alone go out there and compete and reel off a top five. We’re just firing on all cylinders.”
While the ending was certainly exciting, last year’s five-race winner John Hunter Nemechek really dominated the early-going. He led a race best 50 of the 106 laps and won both Stage 1 and Stage 2. He was caught up in the massive incident while running in the top-five and ultimately settled for a 24th-place showing.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series takes a week off and then resumes competition in the Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 on March 4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
— NASCAR Wire Service —