Rhodes wins Truck Series opener with first Daytona victory

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

By JENNA FRYER

AP Auto Racing Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Ben Rhodes raced to his first career victory at Daytona International Speedway with a last-corner pass Friday night in the NASCAR Truck Series opener.

Rhodes was tailing Cory Roper when he slowed to hook up with teammate Matt Crafton for a push. Crafton threw a block and darted to the top, creating momentum that helped Rhodes pull even with Roper.

Multiple trucks crashed behind the leaders and Rhodes edged ahead on the outside. Jordan Anderson ducked low around Rhodes and fell 0.036 behind catching Rhodes.

"As a driver you are always asked about what your biggest accomplishment is. This is it. This is hands down it," Rhodes said. "This is the place to be."

Anderson was second at Daytona for the second consecutive year. He drove through the field from 12th to nearly winning the race on the final lap.

Anderson's first trip to Daytona was as an 8-year-old when he and his father camped in the family truck and caught the races.

"Just being here is exciting for me," Anderson said. "So much energy, so much emotion. I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be here in a national series coming from Columbia, South Carolina."

Anderson said he's considering shutting down his truck team as Jordan Anderson Racing transitions into an Xfinity Series team. But he's determined to keep the truck running as an opportunity for young drivers and nearly pulled off the win.

Anderson will attempt to qualify Saturday for the Xfinity Series opener.

Rhodes and his ThorSport Racing crew each earned $25,000 bonuses from Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis. The title sponsor of the Truck Series posted $300,000 in season-long bonuses before the race.

It was a statement win for Thorsport, which earlier this month announced its return to Toyota after three years with Ford. Thorsport was a Toyota partner from 2012 until 2017.

"We came back to Toyota and we won in our first race with them," Rhodes said. "You can dream about this - I've dreamed about this I can't tell you how long... since I was seven years old. Nothing describes the feeling. I've had very few days like this in my life to have this much elation."

The race was sent to overtime when Timothy Peters triggered a multi-truck crash with six to go. Rhodes led David Gilliland at the start of the two-lap sprint to the finish, but the running order shuffled before Rhodes finally took the checkered flag.

Hailie Deegan, promoted to her first full season in a national season, spun in her debut for David Gilliland Racing. She took a long slide down the apron until she finally smacked into the wall. The hood of her Ford scrunched as the force into the energy-absorbing barrier caused the wall to swell.

Deegan finished 24th out of 36 trucks.

Meanwhile, the third-tier Truck Series got a financial boost when Lemonis announced his bonus system before the race. Camping World earmarked some of the bonuses for the road crews on the race teams - a rare acknowledgement for the team members who make the car run.

Lemonis also pledged to the Truck Series champion both an electric pickup truck and an electric recreational vehicle. Camping World also set aside $100,000 for incremental bonuses or, NASCAR said in a release, "team needs throughout the season."

It wasn't clear if the money could be an emergency slush fund to struggling teams. But notably, Camping World invited inquiries if "a Truck Series team or driver needs help securing sponsorships or has interest in in exploring B2B opportunities."

Inquiries were directed to NASCAR at a nascar.com email address.

Updated February 12, 2021

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