Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: John King Prevails in Wild NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona

In a Nutshell: After spinning out Johnny Sauter to take the lead, rookie John King was in front when the caution fell during the last lap of a green-white-checkered finish. Since it was the third attempt, NASCAR ended the race under yellow and the rookie took the checkers in just his eighth career start in the series.

Buzzwords to describe this one: Bizarro. Surreal. Wild wrecks. And easily one of the top-three upsets in Truck Series history, ever.

Who Should Have Won: Sauter. You have to feel for Sauter, a title contender who put himself in position to win after being on edge most of the night. “No place on this track is safe,” he told his team at one point as wild handling trucks combined with inexperience had him nervous about the big wreck.

But somehow, Sauter avoided all the carnage, then got Ron Hornaday to work with him during the first GWC finish to push the No. 13 truck into the lead. The caution came out shortly after, leaving Sauter ahead of unheralded rookie King but still seemed solidly in control heading to the white flag.

But then, King hit the back of Sauter’s bumper, (King “couldn’t get off of him” in his words) and that was that. He’s now failed to finish three of his four Daytona Truck starts and never ended a race there on the lead lap.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. What was in the water tonight?

Typically, the Daytona race is known for a high level of carnage. But only 17 of 36 trucks finished Friday night (Feb. 24), the lowest number since 2005 as a barrage of wrecks simply decimated the field. So what was the problem? Driver aggression? The rules package? Inexperience?

Probably a combination of all three. Timothy Peters, who wound up second blamed it on the package. “It’s Daytona,” he said. “When you get side-by-side, these things suck together – not your own doing. I think the air played a lot to do with that, obviously some of the guys not knowing [how that aero works].”

Peters’s quote certainly leads into inexperience, what I thought affected the racing most of all. Nearly a third of the field in this race is running for Rookie of the Year: that in itself is not unusual. What is different for these drivers is most of them are running top-level equipment, capable of winning at a track that breeds parity.

So you had a lot of young kids without much drafting experience running at these high speeds, inches from each other lap after lap. That’s going to breed some cautions, especially the high-profile one during the second GWC finish where Sauter got wrecked.

In all, this race had nine cautions, seven for wrecks. By my count, five of them were started by rookies (Paulie Harraka, Cale Gale, Dusty Davis, Clay Greenfield (not an official rookie) and King), in that order. What does that tell you?

2. Who is John King and what does his win say about plate racing at Daytona?

The short version: he’s a late model driver who moved up on a wing, a prayer and some family/limited sponsor cash. Friday was just the third win ever in his entire racing career. Period.

So what does it say that a late model guy, just 22 and in his eighth Truck Series start can pull this one off? It says that superspeedway racing breeds parity, to the point you can put an inexperienced guy in the right equipment and still get the job done. I don’t want to take away from King’s talent; obviously, the right driver still needs to be in position to get that car up front for the win.

But Friday, in many ways, was a win for Daytona and Talladega critics who would tell you this proves that the perfect car and the right amount of luck could put Tony Stewart‘s former monkey in victory lane.

3. Can we learn anything about the 2012 championship race from this event?

No, because so many top-tier drivers got caught up in wrecks. But I will say this much: Peters is going to be strong. Just like 2010, when he emerged from Daytona victorious the second-place finish leaves him with a head start on the rest of the Truck Series contenders.

Truck Rookie Report
2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates

Dakoda Armstrong (No. 98)
Ty Dillon (No. 3)
Dusty Davis (No. 15)
TJ Duke (No. 07)
Ross Chastain (No. 08)
Cale Gale (No. 33)
Max Gresham (No. 24)
Paulie Harraka (No. 5)
Caleb Holman (No. 75 – not entered in Daytona)
John King (No. 7)
Bryan Silas (No. 99)
John Wes Townley (No. 09 – indefinitely suspended by team for DWI)

No. of Rookie Contenders in the Race: 10 (All official contenders but Holman and Townley)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1 – King (won)

Rookie of the Race: King

Rookie Notes

King won in just his eighth career start, the first ever rookie to win a Truck race at Daytona. His success is well-documented here, but that run actually overshadowed a horrific night for the freshman class. Just one other official rookie, Ty Dillon, ran inside the top 10 while six of them failed to finish the race. Dillon struggled for most of the evening, too and used incredible driving to dodge multiple wrecks unfolding in front of him.

Among those who failed to survive the carnage included Max Gresham, whose top-10 night was ruined by a wreck during the first green-white-checkered; Dakoda Armstrong, the third Thorsport entry whose race was ruined by the night’s first caution; and Bryan Silas, quietly having a lead-lap, top-15 performance with an underfunded truck until getting caught up in someone else’s mess.

Perhaps the ugliest night of all, though, came from Harraka, who lost it off turn 4 to spark a four-car crash early on that caught up Armstrong, Jason Leffler and Chris Cockrum (another first-year driver). After making several stops for repairs, he was many laps down but then became involved in a second incident, the race’s fourth caution where he drilled championship contender Matt Crafton when trucks spun in front of them.

Of the 18 trucks to finish, he was the only one off the lead lap as the No. 5 Ford was forced to run wounded the rest of the night.

Points Shuffle

Of course, we’re only one race into the season so the points don’t mean much. But yes, John King! is atop the standings by five over teammate Peters to start the year. Justin Lofton is third, followed by Jason White, while Todd Bodine rounds out the top five, seven points outside the top spot.

Chris Fontaine, Ward Burton, Dillon, Greenfield and Parker Kligerman round out the top 10 in points. Greenfield’s best career finish came in this race, wheeling an unheralded, underfunded No. 68 effort to ninth place, in the lead draft and given plenty of television time throughout the evening.

Quotable

“It’s unbelievable. Dream come true. I knew what the organization was when we went to Red Horse, but I didn’t know how great it was. I mean, everything – unbelievable. I have never driven anything so smooth in my life as that race truck.” – John King, race winner

“It couldn’t have been a better night for Red Horse Racing as a company, 1-2 finish, Todd coming in fifth. Like I said, nothing beats going to victory lane. I’d like to be there. But, again, this place, it sets the tone for the rest of the year. You can either be ahead of the game or play catch-up. Right now, I feel we’re ahead of the game going into Martinsville.” – Timothy Peters, finished second

“He’s such a good kid – he’s so polite and nice and he’s one heck of a race car driver. I talked to him before the race and I told him, ‘John, just don’t do anything and you’re going to be there at the end.’ Sure enough, that’s what happened.” – Todd Bodine, finished fifth, on race winner King

“Thought I was in pretty good position there, but it’s just a product of superspeedway racing. I was trying to get into the tri-oval and I think it’s just a racing deal. I wish it would have worked a little better with [Ron] Hornaday, I apologize for that but we couldn’t really hook up. Daytona in the Truck Series has a lot of incidents – always has – always will. I’m glad to see a Toyota in victory lane, but we wanted it to be the No. 13.” – Johnny Sauter, finished 24th after his wreck

“It was a hard hit, for sure. I lost my breath, just got a little bit too wide up there, got loose through all the runs and two-wide was unstable, I couldn’t hold it. I was so proud of my guys, Turner Motorsports. We were running 1-2-3 up there, and we’re going to come back, run hard, and win races.” – Miguel Paludo after his wreck; finished 30th

Up Next: The Trucks now take over a month off before heading to Martinsville for a March 31 showdown in Virginia. The Kroger 250 will be televised on SPEED Network at 1 p.m. ET, with radio coverage to be determined.

About the author

Tom Bowles
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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