Smith wins wild NASCAR Truck Series season opener at Daytona

A 19-car incident as the field approached the white flag signaling a lap to go instead sent Friday night’s season opener NextEra Energy 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series into overtime where the 22-year-old Californian Zane Smith won on bail against defending series champion Ben Rhodes.

A nearly 16-minute red flag was needed to clear away any debris from the front scrum, which occurred just yards from the start/finish line and littered much of the tri-oval in Track. If Smith – the leader at the time – had crossed the line before the wreckage started, the race would have ended. Instead, the remaining cars that were able to continue, continued.

So Smith had to start all over again. He lined up alongside Eckes for the final two-lap race to the checkered flag. A solid nudge from behind from Parker Kligerman sent Smith’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford-150 to the front and he was able to drive away – taking the white flag before the warning flew in the last round. He only led three laps on the night, the last two of which were important.

“It’s something else, man,” Smith said of his victory at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. “This place is his, I’ll tell you. I literally felt sick to my stomach during that red flag. I thought we had it.

“Just hats off to this whole group. They really worked and it’s so cool to see when it pays off. Man, it’s gonna be a really fun year and I’m gonna try to make it a banner year for myself.

Eckes finished third. Former NHRA standout Tanner Gray and Kligerman rounded out the top five. Carson Hocevar, Jesse Little, poleman Ty Majeski, Danny Bohn and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenedetto round out the top 10. It was DiBenedetto’s first start in the series.

Kligerman, who was the last driver to qualify for the sprint race, started 31st and rallied into the top five, finally giving that winning push to Smith, who now has four wins and was runner-up the last year.

It was the kind of dramatic racing – there were 18 lead changes – and finishing that fans have come to expect from truck racing on the 2.5-mile high banks of Daytona International Speedway and it did not disappoint.

“It’s just huge to get that momentum,” said Kligerman, a part-time contestant on the show who also does national race broadcast work for NBC.
He was especially proud of Friday’s effort given that his truck crew has only one full-time employee.

“It’s just such an honor,” Kligerman said. “I’m so grateful to have the chance to show up here, let alone go out there and compete and get a top five. We’re just firing on all cylinders.

While the end was certainly thrilling, last year’s five-race winner John Hunter Nemechek really dominated the start. He led a race in the top 50 of 106 laps and won Stages 1 and 2. He was caught up in the massive incident while racing in the top five and ultimately settled for a 24th place finish .

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is taking 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).

RESULTS

1. (20) Zane Smith, Ford, 106.
2. (27) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, 106.
3. (14) Christian Eckes, Toyota, 106.
4. (24) Gray Tanner, Ford, 106.
5. (31) Parker Kligerman, Chevy, 106.
6. (9) Jesse Little, Chevy, 106.
7. (1) Ty Majeski, Toyota, 106.
8. (28) Danny Bohn, Chevy, 106.
9. (22) Carson Hocevar, Chevy, 106.
10. (23) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevy, 106.
11. (15) Spencer Boyd, Chevy, 106.
12. (8) Riley Herbst(i), Ford, 106.
13. (16) Austin Wayne Self, Chevy, 106.
14. (35) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 106.
15. (13) Austin Hill(i), Chevy, 106.
16. (5) Stewart Friesen, Toyota, 106.
17. (26) Hailie Deegan, Ford, 106.
18. (34) Thad Moffitt, Chevy, 106.
19. (12) Kris Wright, Chevy, 106.
20. (33) Jason White, Toyota, Crash, 105.
21. (3) Chandler Smith, Toyota, 105.
22. (32) Tate Fogleman, Toyota, 105.
23. (25) Bryan Dauzat, Chevy, 105.
24. (2) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 104.
25. (10) Lawless Alan #, Chevrolet, Accident, 103.
26. (30) Derek Kraus, Chevy, Crash, 101.
27. (29) Matt Crafton, Toyota, Crash, 100.
28. (4) Tyler Ankrum, Toyota, Crash, 99.
29. (7) Grant Finallyger, Chevrolet, Crash, 99.
30. (18) Colby Howard, Chevy, Crash, 99.
31. (19) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, Crash, 99.
32. (6) Corey Heim #, Toyota, Crash, 91.
33. (11) Jack Wood #, Chevrolet, Crash, 63.
34. (36) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, electric, 60 years old.
35. (21) Bret Holmes, Chevy, Clutch, 44.
36. (17) Dean Thompson #, Chevrolet, Brakes, 36.

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