NASCAR Truck: Kaz Grala gets through Daytona wreck for win
Kaz Grala celebrates in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after winning the NextEra Energy Resources 250 on Feb. 24, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
The NextEra Energy Resources 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Friday night was a race of firsts for Kaz Grala. The series rookie started on the pole for the first time in his young career and ended the evening celebrating his first-career win. With the victory, Grala became the youngest winner in NASCAR national series competition at Daytona; he turned 18 on Dec. 29, 2016.
Grala survived a last-lap crash that involved about a dozen trucks to claim the win. His GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, winner of last year’s race at Daytona, dominated the race but was among the drivers collected in the crash.
“There wasn’t any way I was going to lift,” Grala said. “I was just going to go low and cross my fingers and close my eyes a little bit. Luckily, it worked out for me. I can’t believe it. This is just surreal.”
Austin Wayne Self finished second, Chase Briscoe was third, and the son and father duo of John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Nemechek rounded out the top-five.
“When all hell broke loose, we were in the right spot,” Self said.
For John Hunter Nemechek, the top-five finish came after an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire and being involved in two on-track incidents, including a spin inside the final 10 laps.
Sauter led just over half the race, running up front for 52 laps, before being relegated to a 15th-place finish after the last-lap crash that saw former ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton get airborne, flipping and ending up back on his wheels. Sauter also was the race leader at the end of both the first and second segments, collecting a couple of playoff points and also 20 extra regular season, or championship, points.
The first 20-lap stage saw significant caution laps, partly as a result of a lap-two crash that collected more than 10 trucks. The yellow flag waved again for an incident between Brett Miffitt and Christopher Bell. That caution also signaled the conclusion of stage one.
While the action was hairy in the opening stage, things settled down for the second 20-lap stage, as that stage ran caution-free. In the final 60-lap stage, the yellow flag waved on lap 71 for an incident between Bell and Korbin Forrester and then again with about six laps to go for Nemechek’s spin.
Sauter and Crafton raced side-by-side for the lead on the final restart of the race, and Crafton took the white flag as the race leader.
“I was coming off (turn) two and I was like, ‘I’m going to win this race. I’m going to win this race. I got my Daytona jinx off of me,’ and, all of a sudden, I looked in the mirror and I saw the 27 (teammate Ben Rhodes) get turned and I’m like, ‘Just don’t let him get in the right-rear of me,’ and the 27 of Ben Rhodes gave me the push to win that race, and I got out so far going through the tri-oval and then I got hooked and then I felt light and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the air,” Crafton said. “Then, I was in the air, and then, I saw lights and we had the wrong side down, boys. All in all, we had a very fast Menards Toyota Tundra, and NASCAR does a great job with all this safety equipment for us to be able to walk away from this like we did.”
Finishing sixth through 10th were Regan Smith, Scott Lagasse Jr., Bell, J.J. Yeley and Myatt Snider.