The reigning NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith commenced the new season of competition on a high and bizarre note by winning the rain-shortened NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Feb. 17.
The 23-year-old Smith from Huntington Beach, California, led three times for 17 of 79-shortened laps, including the final 15, where he assumed the lead on Lap 65 following a three-wide move against Corey LaJoie and Tyler Ankrum. He then retained the top spot for a few additional laps before the event was red-flagged for over an hour due to persistent rain that halted the event in the early stages. More than an hour after NASCAR attempted to dry the superspeedway venue and send the competitors back under racing conditions, Smith was declared the official winner of the event that was shortened 21 laps shy of its 100-lap scheduled distance.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, newcomer Nick Sanchez claimed his first career pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 181.899 mph in 49.478 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Ty Majeski, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 180.785 mph in 49.783 seconds.
Prior to the event, names that included Clay Greenfield, Chase Purdy, Corey LaJoie, Josh Reaume and Canada’s Jason M. White dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective trucks. Newcomer Daniel Dye also dropped to the rear of the field due to a transmission change along with Chris Hacker, who fell back due to an engine change.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Majeski and Sanchez dueled for the lead early followed by Jack Wood and Christian Eckes entering the first turn. With the truck competitors remaining dead even through two tight-packed lanes through the backstretch, Majeski gained the early advantage as he was drafted into the lead followed by Eckes. With the clean air and control of both lanes, Majeski proceeded to lead the first lap ahead of Sanchez and Eckes.
During the following lap, Majeski retained the lead through the first two laps until Eckes was drafted into the lead following a strong push from Matt Crafton on the outside lane, which dropped Majeski back to third place. Not long after, the first caution of the event flew due to sprinkles reported around the superspeedway venue. Under the first caution period, some names like Derek Kraus, Chase Purdy, Daniel Dye and Tyler Ankrum pitted while the rest led by Eckes remained on the track.
Once the track was cleared from precipitation, the race restarted under green on the sixth lap. A few seconds later, however, the caution quickly returned due to reports of more rain around the superspeedway venue. At the moment of caution, Eckes retained the lead ahead of Crafton, Matt DiBenedetto, Majeski and Sanchez. During the caution period, names like Parker Kligerman, Corey LaJoie, Kris Wright, Colby Howard, Tanner Gray and Travis Pastrana pitted while the rest led by Eckes remained on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 10, Eckes and Crafton dueled for the lead entering Turn 1 until Eckes peeked ahead with drafting help from DiBenedetto. Crafton, however, fought back on the outside lane through the backstretch before Eckes pulled ahead on the inside lane with another push from DiBenedetto as he retained the lead through the frontstretch.
Two laps later, Crafton received a huge push from teammate Majeski on the outside lane entering Turns 3 and 4 to assume full command of the lead in his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 entering the frontstretch. Though he led the Lap 13 mark, Eckes fought back on the inside lane as he and Crafton continued to engage in repeated swaps for the lead from the outside to inside lanes. By Lap 15, Eckes managed to pull his No. 19 NAPA AutoCare Chevrolet Silverado RST away from the side-by-side action on the inside lane followed by DiBenedetto while Crafton remained as the lead truck on the outside lane. Crafton, however, fought back by Lap 18 as he received another push from Majeski to pull away on the backstretch.
Then on the final lap of the first stage, Majeski made his move to the outside of Crafton as he assumed the lead followed by Eckes and DiBenedetto. As Majeski moved back to the inside lane, Eckes charged on the outside lane as he drew himself alongside Majeski through the backstretch. Then in Turns 3 and 4, Majeski got loose towards the apron but managed to keep his truck straight. This, however, allowed Eckes to pull away as he claimed the first stage victory on Lap 20. Crafton settled in second while DiBenedetto, Hailie Deegan, Sanchez, Majeski, Carson Hocevar, Tanner Gray, Jack Wood and Grant Enfinger were scored in the top 10 on the track.
Under the stage break, some, led by Eckes, pitted while others, led by Ankrum and including Stewart Friesen, Colby Howard, Kligerman, Purdy and Pastrana remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Kris Wright was penalized for speeding on pit road. Corey Heim was also penalized for having a crew member jump over the pit wall too soon.
The second stage started on Lap 25 as Ankrum and Friesen occupied the front row. At the start, Ankrum pulled away with the lead on the inside lane through Turns 1 and 2 until Friesen gained momentum on the outside lane as he was drafted by Kligerman into the lead. As the field battled through two tight-packed lanes through the frontstretch, Ankrum drew his No. 16 LiUNA! Toyota Tundra TRD Pro back even against Friesen’s No. 52 Aim Autism/Halmar Toyota Tundra TRD Pro as they dueled for the lead. Not long after, the field fanned out to three lanes as Eckes tried to march his way back to the front.
Then on Lap 28, the caution flew as a multi-truck wreck erupted just past the start/finish line and on the frontstretch when Clay Greenfield got loose, slipped sideways and ignited carnage that included Dean Thompson, Deegan, Tanner Gray, DiBenedetto, Bret Holmes, Josh Reaume and Daniel Dye. Soon after, the event entered a red flag period and the competitors parked their trucks on the backstretch due to rain returning on the venue and as the safety workers went to work to clear the wreckage. Eventually, the competitors were ordered by NASCAR to cycle their trucks back to pit road as the event remained under a red flag period due to rain.
Following a red flag period spanning approximately 12 minutes, the competitors returned to the track at a cautious pace. Once the circuit was cleared, the race restarted under green on Lap 35 as Ankrum and Howard occupied the front row. At the start, Howard briefly peaked ahead until Ankrum retained the lead as he had the draft to his advantage on the inside lane. Howard, however, prevailed during the following lap as he cleared the field with the lead while Friesen and Ankrum dueled for second.
During the following lap, Ankrum responded right back by assuming the lead through the backstretch. As Ankrum nearly got turned off the front nose of Howard entering the frontstretch, Friesen made a bold three-wide pass on both Howard and Ankrum to take the lead as the field behind also fanned out to three tight-packed lanes.
Then on the final lap of the first stage, Friesen, who lost the lead to Ankrum through the first two turns, got turned into the outside wall on the backstretch after making contact with Ben Rhodes as Codie Rohrbaugh, Howard, Kligerman and Holmes also wrecked. The incident was enough to conclude the second stage scheduled on Lap 40 under caution as Ankrum claimed the second stage victory. Purdy settled in second followed by Crafton, Sanchez and Eckes while Enfinger, Rhodes, Enfinger, Jack Wood and Hocevar were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the majority of the field led by Ankrum pitted while the rest led by Corey LaJoie remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Majeski was penalized for a second time due to a rear crew member jumping over the pit wall too soon. In addition, Jason A. White, a Richmond, Virginia, native driving for TRICON Garage, was also penalized for removing equipment out of his pit box.
Amid another brief on-track delay due to precipitation as the competitors remained on the track, the final stage commenced under the green flag with 53 laps remaining as LaJoie and Zane Smith occupied the front row. At the start, LaJoie and Smith briefly dueled for the lead until Smith pulled ahead with the lead followed by DiBenedetto and Ankrum. Exiting the backstretch, however, Ankrum received a draft from Eckes to storm back into the lead as he immediately moved in front of Zane Smith. Eckes, however, remained on the outside lane as he assumed the lead for two turns until LaJoie made a move beneath Eckes to reassume the lead.
With 50 laps remaining, LaJoie was leading ahead of Ankrum as both competitors engaged in repeated side-by-side battles for the top spot. Heim was in third followed by Zane Smith and DiBenedetto while Eckes, Crafton, Chase Elliott, Enfinger and rookie Rajah Caruth were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Majeski was in 11th followed by Rhodes, Hocevar, Tanner Gray and Jack Wood while Dye, Purdy, Travis Pastrana, Sammy Smith, and Timmy Hill occupied the top 20 amid a tight battle within the front pack.
Then with 43 laps remaining, the caution flew when rookie Rajah Caruth, who was running towards the top 10, made contact with both Zane Smith and Heim entering Turns 3 and 4, which got his No. 24 Wendell Scott Foundation Chevrolet Silverado RST sideways as he spun before he was hit by DiBenedetto and teammate Daniel Dye. Amid the carnage, a majority of competitors running towards the middle of the pack took evasive action to avoid the carnage, including Tanner Gray and Elliott as both dodged the wreck, Majeski also avoided the incident by a hair despite making contact against Dye and having to slam the brakes.
During the caution period, nearly the entire field except for LaJoie, Timmy Hill, Carson Hocevar and Josh Reaume pitted, though LaJoie’s move in remaining on the track was not as planned due to a miscommunication between himself and his pit crew on when pit road was open for service. Prior to the restart and with the majority of the competitors remaining uncertain on completing the remainder of the race’s scheduled distance on fuel, names like Timmy Hill, Carson Hocevar, Christian Eckes, Travis Pastrana, Chase Purdy, Chris Hacker, Jack Wood, Nick Sanchez, Sammy Smith, Kris Wright, Grant Enfinger, Derek Kraus and Jason A White pitted again to top off on fuel.
With 36 laps remaining, the event restarted under green. At the start, LaJoie jumped ahead with the lead on the inside lane through the first two turns. He then tried to fend off Ankrum on the outside lane, but Ankrum and Zane Smith placed LaJoie in the middle of a three-wide battle entering Turns 3 and 4 as Zane Smith assumed the lead in his No. 38 Love’s Ford F-150 while LaJoie drifted all the way to the back of the lead pack after losing the draft.
Three laps later, the caution returned due to reports of rain returning to the racing surface. By then, Zane Smith was the leader followed by Tanner Gray, Howard, Eckes and Enfinger while Majeski, Ankrum, Heim, Crafton and Elliott. Another six laps later amid an extensive caution period, the field led by Zane Smith returned to pit road and the race was placed on its second red flag hiatus due to the precipitation.
An hour later, the red flag lifted and the competitors returned to the track under a cautious pace in spite of the weather remaining misty and the rain transitioning from either raining or not raining. Soon after, the field returned to pit road and under another red flag period with 21 laps remaining. Soon after, NASCAR declared the event official due to the persistent rain and Zane Smith was declared the winner of the event on pit road.
For Smith, the Daytona victory was his second in a row after winning last year’s season opener, which made him the first competitor to win back-to-back Truck events at Daytona since Todd Bodine made the last accomplishment between 2008 and 2009. It also marked his eighth career victory in the Craftsman Truck Series and his second in a row after winning both the 2022 finale and series championship at Phoenix as he became the first competitor to be guaranteed a spot for the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs. Smith’s Daytona victory also marked the sixth Truck career win for Front Row Motorsports and the eighth time where the Ford nameplate won at Daytona.
““I know there’s about a million ways to get [a win] at Daytona, but we’re proving that,” Smith, who is set to make his Daytona 500 debut on Sunday, said on FS1. “Obviously, [I] wanted to go back racing there somewhat, to duke it out with good friends of mine. Hey, we’ll take a win at Daytona any day we can get. [I] Just give a huge shoutout to everyone at Front Row Motorsports. This whole group, man, I’ve said it over and over again, they work their guts out and it proves it. [We’re] Locked in the Playoffs. It’s like a repeat of last year. Just loving life right now.”
With Zane Smith winning the event, Tanner Gray settled in a career-best second place while Eckes, Colby Howard and Enfinger concluded in the top five. Majeski, Ankrum, Heim, Crafton and Elliott finished in the top 10.
Notably, Ben Rhodes finished 11th in front of Hocevar, Pastrana settled in 13th in front of newcomer Sammy Smith, Purdy ended up 17th, LaJoie fell back to 23rd and Sanchez finished 26th in his series debut in front of Jack Wood and Friesen.
There were 20 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 41 laps.
Following the first event of the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series season, Christian Eckes leads the regular-season standings by five points over Matt Crafton, nine over Ty Majeski, 10 over both Zane Smith and Tyler Ankrum, 12 over Tanner Gray and 14 over Grant Enfinger.
1. Zane Smith, 17 laps led
2. Tanner Gray
3. Christian Eckes, 19 laps led, Stage 1 winner
4. Colby Howard, two laps led
5. Grant Enfinger
6. Ty Majeski, two laps led
7. Tyler Ankrum, 15 laps led, Stage 2 winner
8. Corey Heim
9. Matt Crafton, two laps led
10. Chase Elliott
11. Ben Rhodes
12. Carson Hocevar
13. Travis Pastrana
14. Sammy Smith
15. Jason A. White
16. Timmy Hill
17. Chase Purdy, one lap led
18. Derek Kraus
19. Josh Reaume
20. Matt DiBenedetto
21. Jason M. White
22. Kris Wright
23. Corey LaJoie, 19 laps led
24. Mason Massey
25. Chris Hacker
26. Nick Sanchez
27. Jack Wood
28. Stewart Friesen, five laps down, two laps led
29. Rajah Caruth – OUT, Accident
30. Daniel Dye – OUT, Accident
31. Bret Holmes – OUT, Brakes
32. Parker Kligerman – OUT, DVP
33. Codie Rohrbaugh – OUT, Accident
34. Clay Greenfield – OUT, Accident
35. Hailie Deegan – OUT, Accident
36. Dean Thompson – OUT, Accident
With the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season underway, the series will travel west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the second event of the season. The event is scheduled to occur on March 3 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.