Rookie driver Kaz Grala guided his truck through, then past a last-lap incident involving 13 trucks to win an action-filled NextEra Energy Resources 250 on Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, to open the season for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Grala, an 18-year-old who started on the pole in the No. 33 Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil Chevrolet, emerged from the backstretch incident that ruined a dominating effort by Grala’s teammate, defending race champion – and reigning series champion – Johnny Sauter (No. 21 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet). Sauter led 52 laps of the 100-lap race, in the process also winning the race’s first two “stages” – in the debut of NASCAR’s new national-series format that divides races into three stages and awards points for each stage. Friday’s stages were 20, 20 and 60 laps.
Sauter was passed for the lead by former series champion Matt Crafton at the start of the final lap. Crafton was slightly ahead on the backstretch when multi-car contact sent his No. 88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota airborne, into a full flip – but then landing upright. Sauter, caught up in the incident, finished 15th.
Grala is the youngest Daytona International Speedway winner of a NASCAR national series race – 18 years, one month, 26 days. He was followed to the flag by Austin Wayne Self (No. 32 AM Technical Solutions Toyota) and another rookie, Chase Briscoe (No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford).
I saw coming out of Turn 2 it was getting crazy,” Grala said. “There wasn’t going to be any way I was going to be lifting. I just went low, closed by eyes and crossed my fingers and luckily it worked out … it was pretty hectic.”
There were two practice sessions on Friday for the 59th annual DAYTONA 500, set for Sunday. The starting grid for the DAYTONA 500 had been finalized Thursday night via the Can-Am Duel, the annual pair of 150-mile qualifying races for “The Great American Race.” Chase Elliott (No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet) and two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) qualified 1-2 in the DAYTONA 500 Qualifying Presented By Kroger on Feb. 19 to lock in front-row positions. The Can-Am Duel established the field beyond the front row.
David Ragan (No. 38 Camping World Ford) posted the fastest lap in the first practice, 194.898 mph. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) – a two-time DAYTONA 500 champion and seven-time champion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – had the best average speed for 10 consecutive laps on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, 192.731.
The second practice was led by a 197.265-mph lap from former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota). Series rookie Erik Jones (No. 77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota) led the 10-consecutive lap averages at 195.933.
Final practice for the DAYTONA 500 is scheduled for Saturday from 12:30 p.m.-1:55 p.m.
Also Friday, two practices were held for Saturday’s PowerShares QQQ 300, the season-opening event for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Justin Allgaier (193.890 mph) and JJ Yeley (187.005) had the respective fastest laps. Qualifying for the event is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with the race at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets for the 59th annual DAYTONA 500 and other Speedweeks events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.