DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Ben Rhodes narrowly lost out on a stage win in Stage 2 on Friday night. With how he lost out on that stage victory, he said to himself that it wouldn’t happen again.
Well, as luck may have it, Rhodes was put in a similar position at the end of the race. He crossed the finish line to take the white flag in second. Cory Roper forced his way to the lead and while doing so, Rhodes was planning.
That move he lost out on earlier in the race? Well he was going to do it this time around.
Rhodes pushed Roper out far enough then backed off his bumper to ensure he was a sitting duck.
Roper at that point, felt his chances of a win were over. Rhodes, purposely fell back into the clutches of his teammate Matt Crafton. He used drafting help to get back up to Roper. This time, he was faster.
For the second straight year, a ThorSport Racing driver, this time Rhodes, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener in Daytona in dramatic fashion. He did so with a new manufacturer as they swapped their Ford package for Toyota’s this past offseason.
Rhodes said he owes Crafton big time as he said without his help, he wouldn’t have won. He just didn’t want to pass Roper too early and allow Roper to side draft him back. He thought he’d have longer drafting help, but a big crash occurred behind and stalled some of Rhodes’ momentum.
“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.”
It was enough to get by Roper but barely enough to hold off a hard charging Jordan Anderson by .036 seconds to win Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250 in thrilling fashion.
It was Rhodes’ fourth career Truck Series victory and one that he says is the biggest of his career thus far — even bigger than his win at his home track in Kentucky a few years back.
“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.”
Anderson, was the best story of the night again. Daytona has given so many big moments for underdogs and Anderson was the beneficiary yet again.
Friday night was emotional for him again, as this was the second straight year that he finished runner-up in close fashion here. This time, it was a parting of the seas sense. Anderson, was 11th coming to the white flag but caught some lucky breaks in seeing two different crashes occur on that final lap, one of which was collected his brother-in-law, as he came home second place again.
“I’m almost speechless,” said an elated Anderson, who was anything but tongue-tied. “So much energy, so much emotion…”
Anderson, was .010-seconds behind Grant Enfinger in last year’s race and now .26 seconds off that a year ago. His two combined runner-up finishes the last two years at the World Center of Speed is by .046.
He ran full time in the Truck Series the last three years. This year, they’ve since decided to move up to a full time NASCAR Xfinity Series team for 2021. This Truck effort was almost shut down a month ago as a result. Following this finish, good thing that they didn’t.
He’s made 70 career Truck starts and has scored two top five finishes. Both were here in this very race the last two years.
Roper, settled for third in his No. 04 Ford while Ryan Truex overcame a quiet night including a spin on Lap 52 to finish fourth.
Carson Hocevar, the youngest driver in the field, rounded out the top five after being collected in that Lap 94 “Big One” on the backstretch.
Over the final 15 laps, we saw 10 different lead changes as it was another wild show under the lights here on the 2.5-mile track.
Fresh Faces Up Front Again
Grant Enfinger’s win in last year’s race wasn’t too big of a surprise a year ago. Neither was Ben Rhodes’ again on Friday night. But, just look at the finishing order behind them the last two years. Jordan Anderson (2nd), Codie Rohrbaugh (3rd), Derek Kraus (4th) and Natalie Decker (5th) rounded out the top five in 2020.
This year, you get Anderson (2nd), Roper (3rd), Truex (4th) and Hocevar (5th) tonight. This race is the definition of unpredictability and it’s must see as a result.
Niece’s Strategy Pays Off
After James Buescher was collected in a crash literally at the start of Friday night’s race, the Niece group decided to play it conservative until the final stage. Brett Moffitt, Ryan Truex and Carson Hocevar just rode around in the first two stages as they were trying to dodge any contact.
Two of the three finished in the top five when it was all said and done despite all four of them being involved in incidents tonight.
Truex spun with Derek Kraus on Lap 52. Moffitt, was spun later on in the race and never got a caution. He fell five laps down and finished 25th. Hocevar was collected in that last melee on Lap 94 but rebounded to come home fifth.
Chaos At The End
As usual, we saw mayhem and some torn up Trucks in the end of Friday night’s race. The first half of the event saw just four cautions, half of which for stage breaks. But, once we hit Lap 52, the chaos really began.
Derek Kraus spun off Turn 4 on Lap 52 as Ryan Truex spun behind to avoid running into anyone. That sparked six total cautions over the next 42 laps.
The first “Big One” occurred on Lap 64 when Todd Gilliland and Matt Crafton made contact which sent Gilliland into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier collecting Stewart Friesen and Tate Fogleman as well.
Due to all the oil that fell on the racing surface in the aftermath of that crash, the beach was moved a bit west. So much speedy dry was put down in Turn 2 and down the backstretch, it looked like a dirt race. That played a role in the next caution as Hailie Deegan was spun at Turn 2 exit on Lap 80 and hit in the inside SAFER barrier as a result.
14 laps later, Chandler Smith spun entering Turn 1 but didn’t bring out the caution. A half a lap later, another big crash occurred down the backstretch. 10 Trucks were collected when Timothy Peters came down on Drew Dollar and sparked the melee.
Then, the last lap saw several crashes.
- 36 Trucks started tonight, 30 left with damage
- The 31 lead changes ties a race record which was set in 2000.
- Toyota dominated with eight consecutive wins at Daytona from 2007 to 2014, but Austin Hill’s win in 2019 was the first Toyota driver to have won for the manufacturer at the track since 2014. Ben Rhodes gave them their second in three years.