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Ben Rhodes edges out underdogs Cory Roper and Jordan Anderson for Truck-opening NextEra Energy 250 win – The Checkered Flag

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.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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.”

Credit: NASCAR Trucks

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!”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
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
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Truck points

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