Kaz Grala Survives Last-Lap Mayhem At Daytona To Win First Career NCWTS Race

by February 25, 2017 0 comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kaz Grala avoided a last-lap crash in Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 and became the youngest NASCAR national series driver to ever win at Daytona International Speedway.

On the final lap, a misjudged bump draft from Grant Enfinger, sent Ben Rhodes into Matt Crafton as the field exited Turn 2. Crafton’s truck went airborne and cut a complete cartwheel before landing on all four tires. Twelve trucks were involved in the “big one”. When the chaos settled, it was 18-year-old rookie, Kaz Grala out-front in the GMS Racing No. 33 Kiklos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil Chevrolet. The win is the first of Grala’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career. Not only did Grala become the youngest NASCAR national series driver to win at the World Center of Racing, but he also became only the fourth driver in the series to win from the pole at the stadium.

“That was a crazy finish to the race for sure,” Grala said. “My radio actually came unplugged towards the end of the race, so I was a little bit nervous and frantic at the end. But I got it plugged in thankfully, and at the very end of the race, I’m really glad I did. My spotter Eddie D’Hondt helped me through that one big time.

“I’m really happy to have been able to do that. I was just pushing Timothy Peters. I couldn’t really see much ahead of me, but I did see stuff start to go wrong. And I knew I wasn’t going to lift out of the throttle, so I just tugged the wheel left, crossed my fingers, closed my eyes a little bit, and I’m really glad it worked out. That was pretty hectic at the end.  We had a little bit of luck, but we had a really fast Kiklos Chevy for sure.”

Finishing just behind Grala in second was Austin Wayne Self in the No. 32 AM Technical Solutions Toyota. The race was only his 23 start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His prior best finish in the series was a ninth-place effort at Eldora Speedway in July.

“Yeah, man, we had a long race kind of that first instant, so we were just trying to stay out of trouble for the first two segments and really just get ourselves in the best position for the third one,” Self said. “And we did.

“We started, I think, 13th, 12th or 13th, and got a good run on the outside. Then got stuck in the middle and got an opening down on the bottom, took that, and I think that’s what really put us in the position to be the runner‑up there.

In his debut start, Brad Keselowski Racing’s Chase Briscoe brought the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford home in the third position.

“Yeah, it was definitely a welcoming, that’s for sure,” Briscoe said. “It was pretty hairy. The whole race was really pretty wild, and you knew it was on the last lap. If you just watch any of the past races you’d know that’s how the Truck Series is and that’s what makes it so exciting.

“We felt like we were in a really good position on that final restart. I think we restarted third and just kind of got bottled up there and lost all of our track position.  Stayed tight to the line and luckily missed that last wreck.”

John Hunter Nemechek finished fourth, and his father Joe Nemechek finished fifth. Rounding out the top-10 was Regan Smith, Scott Lagasse Jr., Christopher Bell, JJ Yeley and Myatt Snider.

As for Crafton, who went airborne, he was just half a lap away from possibly winning his first race at Daytona. In 16 prior starts at the stadium in the series, he has only come as close as fifth to winning the annual February race. On Friday, he finished 14th in his ThorSport Racing No. 88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota.

“I was coming off (turn) two and I was like, ‘I’m going to win this race, I’m going to win this race,’” Crafton said. “I got my Daytona jinx off of me and all of the sudden I looked in the mirror and I saw the 27 (Ben Rhodes) get turned and I’m like, ‘Just don’t let him get in the right rear of me,’ and the 27 of Ben Rhodes gave me the push to win that race and I got out so far going through the tri-oval and then I got hooked and then I felt light and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the air then I was in the air and then I saw lights and we had the wrong side down boys. All in all we had a very fast Menards Toyota Tundra and NASCAR does a great job with all this safety equipment for us to be able to walk away from this like we did.”

The race saw six cautions throughout the night. The largest accident occurred on lap 3, and it involved 14 trucks. Chase Briscoe got into the back of Noah Gragson and sent him hard into the outside wall on the frontstretch. Gragson bounced off the wall and spun into traffic, sending the field scattering.

“NASCAR does a great job with the safer barriers and making these trucks safe,” Gragson said. “I’m fine. I took a few hard hits out there. Just a bummer. I didn’t want to end the race like this, but I had a good time for the lap I got. Felt like the 29 (Chase Briscoe) hit me in the wrong part of the bumper going through the tri-oval, it just got me loose and it got pointed into the outside wall. Just very thankful for the opportunity to come out here to Daytona, racing in front of the fans.”

For the first time in history, NASCAR had segments in a points race. Johnny Sauter won the first two segments. He led a race high of 52 laps throughout the night. Sauter collected 20 bonus points and two Playoff points after winning the segments. There were 14 lead changes among nine different drivers.

Kaz Grala leads Johnny Sauter by 14 points in the standings. Chase Briscoe is third, 17 points back from the lead. Ben Rhodes is fourth, 18 points back, and Joe Nemechek is fifth, trailing Rhodes by 20 points.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will visit Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 4 for the Active Pest Control 200. The race will broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images

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