Rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver John King emerged as the winner of the Nextera Energy Resources 250 season opener, but it took the maximum allowed number of green-white-chequered-flag attempts and a whole lot of crashes and accidents to bring it about.
"I'm not supposed to be here ... The expectations were just to finish!" said a stunned King, making only his eighth series start and his first at Daytona. "It's a dream come true."
Much of the race had been dominated by Turner Motorsports duo Miguel Paludo and James Buescher. Paludo had started from pole position after setting a lap time of 49.583s (181.514mph), beating former F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. by 0.023s. Buescher and Ty Dillon started from the second row with Cup regular Brad Keselowski just behind in fifth place. Eventual race winner King started from 23rd place.
Paluda led for 56 of the 109 laps of the race before spinning out all by himself on lap 83 and making a hard head-on impact against the infield wall that briefly launched the #32 into the air. "It was a hard hit, for sure," he said after climbing out of the wreck unassisted. "I lost my breath."
Prior to that there has already been two previous cautions for accidents: on lap 19 when Paul Harraka hit Chris Cockrum and then collected an unfortunate Jason Leffler in a turn 4 accident that also took out Dakoda Armstrong; and another on lap 63 triggered by John King himself, who moved up into Cale Gale who in turn went up into the path of Mike Skinner. Skinner was left with no where to go but hard into the #33.
After Paluda's exit, the race was heading to a climax when Parker Kilgerman's Dodge spun sideways on the frontstretch on lap 95 and triggered a multi-truck wreck that left David Starr, Ross Chastain, Dusty Davis and Bryan Silas with damage and also meant that the race reached its 100 lap scheduled distance under caution. That duly invoked green-white-chequered-flag conditions for the finish.
Johnny Sauter took the lead at the first attempt to end the race, only to have the race quickly go back to yellow for an accident further down the field that involved Ty Dillon, Dusty Davis, Brad Keselowski, Max Gresham, Ryan Sieg, Clay Greenfield and Rick Crawford
The second restart attempt was thwarted by an accident caused by King himself, when the 23-year-old Tennessee driver got into the back of Sauter and spun the leader into the wall, triggering further collisions in the chasing pack that meant the race was red-flagged for over ten minutes.
King was somewhat shamefaced about it and was quick to say sorry to Sauter after the race. "I apologise to Johnny Sauter. I shouldn't have been there because I'm so inexperienced," he admitted, saying he'd never pushed a car in a draft before and had no clue what he was doing. "I closed up on him real fast. I couldn't get off of him. I flat wrecked him."
Sauter said he didn't blame King and suspected that King was himself pushed into the collision by Todd Bodine running further back. "He's known for driving a little bit over his head at places like this," was Sauter's view of Bodine.
"Daytona has been an Achilles heel for me," sighed Sauter. "For whatever reason in the truck series, it's just impossible for me to get to the finish. I had no expectations of winning the race."
King was in the lead for the next restart following the red flag for a clean-up, and the third attempt to end the race saw Buescher promptly get turned sideways by contact from Ron Hornaday. Buescher's car then launched Joey Coulter into the air and into the catchfence before the #22 landed in a twisted wreck with sparks flying. Coulter was able to walk away uninjured from the frightening incident, but two fans were treated for minor injuries after being hit by flying debris.
The three green-white-chequered restarts meant that the race had run nine laps longer than planned. With no more green-white-chequereds permitted under the rules, the field was frozen and the race finally ended under caution, with King in the lead ahead of his Red Horse Racing team mate Timothy Peters who had provided a big push at the crucial moment to get him to the front.
"A great night for Red Horse Racing," said Peters. "It was an action-packed night and we were fortunate to keep our nose clean."
"The guys did a fantastic job ... They play well together," was team owner Tom DeLoach's verdict. "They played the game the way they were supposed to play the game. Ran hard. Kind of anticipated what they needed to do and never quit digging," he said, adding: "They do a fantastic job."Full race results available.