Johnny Sauter kicked off the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season by winning Friday night's NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
In what was another typical wild truck race at Daytona, Sauter avoided several big crashes and then held off Sprint Cup Series regular Kyle Busch in the closing laps for the victory. The 250-mile event ended under caution when a multi-truck accident occurred on the frontstretch after Sauter had taken the white flag for the final lap around this 2.5-mile speedway.
Sauter, who drives the No. 98 Toyota for ThorSport Racing, claimed his seventh career truck win, including his first at Daytona. His previous best finish in the series at this racetrack was 17th. In last year's truck race here, Sauter held the lead during the second of three green-white-checkered finish attempts, but John King bumped Sauter from behind and crashed him into the wall, spoiling his chances to win. While King went on to take the checkered flag, Sauter settled for a disappointing 24th-place finish.
"It's a lot harder to win a restrictor race than you think," Sauter said. "I'm speechless even to this point. After last year, coming so close and getting taken out there towards the end of the race, we did everything right tonight."
The first major wreck, involving 13 trucks, occurred just past the halfway point when Brendan Gaughan got sandwiched between rookie driver Brennan Newberry, who had won the pole for this race earlier in the day, and German Quiroga, also a rookie this season, while running in a tight pack of trucks on the backstretch. Gaughan bumped into Newberry, which triggered the incident.
"Newberry kept leaving it open in the middle, and I wanted to get to the middle, but he just came down on top of me," Gaughan said. "It's just one of those deals. It was my fault because I had a rookie on one side and a rookie on the other."
A five-truck accident occurred with eight laps to go when Ryan Truex cut a tire and spun around in turn three. That caution setup a five-lap shootout to the finish.
Thanks to pushing help from his teammate, Todd Bodine, Sauter grabbed the lead from Busch with 16 laps left. Bodine held the second position until he got shuffled out of the draft in the final laps.
Busch ran behind Sauter and was setting up for a last-lap pass for the win, but NASCAR officials were forced to end the race under caution after the four- truck wreck took place on the frontstretch.
"I knew Kyle was going to try to lay back ultimately and try to build momentum and make a pass on me late," Sauter said. "I did everything I could. I was lifting, riding the brake trying to make sure I didn't get out too far in front of him. I'm not going to lie, I was happy to see that caution come out at the end. Just a wild race."
It's the third time Busch has finished in the runner-up position in a truck race at Daytona. Busch has won Sprint Cup, Nationwide and ARCA Series events at this track in the past but remains without a truck victory here.
"It's another year in the waiting," Busch said. "There in the end, I thought I was in the perfect spot running second behind Johnny, and I was going to make a move on the last lap. Unfortunately, it was only a 99-lap race today. We didn't get the full 100 in. I wasn't able to make a move coming down towards the end."
Sauter not only gave Toyota its seventh consecutive truck win at Daytona but delivered the auto manufacturer its 100 victory in the series as well.
Ron Hornaday Jr. finished third, followed by Justin Lofton and Jeb Burton, who is the 20-year-old son of former Cup Series driver and 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton.
Ty Dillon dominated most of this race by leading 56 laps, but Dillon faded in the field at the end to finish sixth. Miguel Paludo took the seventh spot, while Ryan Blaney, Matt Crafton and Ryan Sieg completed the top-10. Crafton suffered a flat tire late in the event but managed to bounce back.
Bodine settled for 11th place. Darrell Wallace Jr., who is just the fourth African-American driver to compete full-time in one of NASCAR's top-three racing series, and James Buescher, the defending truck champion, finished 12th and 13th, respectively. During a round of pit stops in the early going, Wallace ran into Buescher, causing damage to both of their trucks. They both made repairs on the subsequent round of stops.
The series is off for the next five weeks before returning to action on April 6 at Martinsville Speedway.