Sanchez Survives Daytona Crashfest For First Truck Win

Sanchez

Nick Sanchez in victory lane at Daytona Int'l Speedway Friday night. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of Florida’s native sons found his way to victory lane at Daytona Int’l Speedway Friday night in one of the wildest races in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history.

Miami native Nick Sanchez collected the checkered flag at the end of the Fresh From Florida 250, marking a historic first national series victory for Rev Racing – the house team for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative.

Sanchez, a product of the Drive for Diversity who bears Cuban heritage, took his first Truck Series win in a season-opening race marred by a track-record 12 yellow flags, including one on backstretch during the final lap that ultimately ended the nearly three-hour marathon under caution.

After taking the lead at the start of an overtime restart, thanks to a push from TRICON Garage’s Taylor Gray, Sanchez faded briefly and then surged back past Spire Motorsports’ Rajah Caruth coming to the white flag when Caruth’s momentum from teammate Corey LaJoie stalled out off the fourth corner.

Sanchez then held serve out front and survived as Caruth got tight off a bad push from LaJoie and drifted up, hooking Gray down the track and sparking a multi-truck melee on the Daytona Superstretch that saw Gray flip through the air before coming to rest on all four wheels.

From there, Sanchez came back around to the finish line at reduced speed to secure a historic win at the World Center of Racing. It came after he went spinning during the first wreck of the night at lap six.

“With how the race started, I’m still covered in dirt from all of that,” chuckled Sanchez, who slid through the grass at that point but was able to continue. “I’m so thankful for this team, sticking with me, even as we went winless last season. It hurt; we should have won then, but we redeemed ourselves in the first race possible tonight. The end was classic Daytona – overtime restart – and the odds of us finishing under green weren’t great … but we were in the right place at the right time.

“It’s definitely going to be a good year, if this first race is any indication.”

He’s the second driver of Cuban descent to win a NASCAR national series race, joining Aric Almirola.

“This feels pretty surreal,” Sanchez noted.

The first two stages were more chaotic than anticipated, with the field only making it 15 miles before chaos ensued on the backstretch.

Contact between Christian Eckes and Matt Crafton sent Crafton down into the right-rear of Stewart Friesen, sparking a 13-truck melee on the approach to turn three as the pack came flying apart.

Though Crafton escaped without major damage, the night was over at that point for Ty Dillon, Jake Garcia, Thad Moffitt, and Layne Riggs – whose team attempted to use the six-minute crash clock to make repairs for Riggs to continue but was unable to salvage the night for the second-generation driver.

A spin by Lawless Alan off turn two at lap 16 led to a second caution in the first 20-lap stage, which was ultimately won by past series champion Johnny Sauter, before pit stops left polesitter Ty Majeski and California young gun Tyler Ankrum at the front of the field for stage two.

Ankrum controlled every competitive lap in the second segment, despite a lap-32 caution for debris in turn three after Friesen cut a tire, and was out front when a brief rain shower hit the speedway a lap before the second stage break. That gave Ankrum the stage win and could have made the race official.

However, the weather moved out as quickly as it came, with a brief seven-minute stoppage setting the scene for a 56-lap run to the finish led back to green by Bret Holmes and Tanner Gray.

Gray took the early advantage at the start of the final stage, but a push from Sauter allowed Holmes to quickly resume command before a hard crash by Keith McGee forced the sixth yellow flag of the night.

Those six cautions in the first half of the race gave way to six more cautions in the back half of the race, punctuated by a blown tire on lap 73 that eliminated defending champion Ben Rhodes and a chain-reaction stack-up just before the 20-to-go benchmark where Sauter’s night ended after 24 laps led.

Sanchez

Nick Sanchez (2) leads in the final laps Friday night at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

But the incident that took the race to overtime came with six laps left, when contact between Chase Purdy and Ankrum collected Eckes and lit Purdy’s truck ablaze before it came to a halt.

None of the trio was injured, though the timing of the caution led to the lap-99 restart which pushed the race a lap beyond its scheduled distance and generated the backstretch chaos just before the finish.

After video review to determine the moment of caution, Corey Heim was credited with runner-up honors, with Caruth scored third in the strongest performance of his young career.

Bret Holmes finished fourth with his family-owned truck, followed by Spencer Boyd, while Stefan Parsons rallied from an earlier crash for sixth.

Crafton, Timmy Hill, Bryan Dauzat, and Eckes completed the top 10 in a race which took two hours, 33 minutes, and eight seconds to finish – the second-longest Truck Series race by time in Daytona history.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns to action Feb. 24 at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway for the Fr8 208. Eckes won his first of four Truck Series races last season at the 1.54-mile quad-oval.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.