Kaz Garla Wins First Truck Series Race
By Matteo Marcheschi
@ajetdryer on Twitter
February 26, 2017
Grala Earns First Truck Series Victory in Chaotic Finish
The Nascar Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona was bound to be crazy. Young guns driving at a restrictor plate track as their first laps of the season was a recipe for disaster, and a disaster it was, as a huge crash occurred on the first lap of the race. 22-year-old Chase Briscoe gave a bad bump to 18-year-old Noah Gragson, causing Gragson to lose control and hit Austin Cindric, who slammed the outside wall. Truck after truck piled in as others careened across the track, collecting 17 trucks total. When the damaged trucks brought it down to the pits, Nascar’s new five-minute repair clock came into play. Seven trucks would go on the clock. Terry Jones was among those who was eliminated by the expiration of the timer. Overall, nine of the 17 trucks involved would end up out of the race, raising concern about how many trucks would make it to the end.
On the restart, Kaz Grala would be up front, and the entire Gallagher Motorsports team was strong early, with Red Horse Racing not far behind. Even after seeing all those trucks destroyed in the lap 1 crash, the truckers weren’t afraid of pushing hard, snaking down the straightaways as they tried to get a whiff of clean air. Brett Moffitt and Spencer Gallagher each spent time up front near the end of the first segment. Christopher Bell then took Gallagher’s place, and battled it out for the stage win. Gallagher had moved in behind Moffitt, and pushed a little too hard. Moffitt spun into the inside wall, with Bell also spinning as a result of contact with Gallagher. Johnny Sauter took advantage of the chaos to win stage 1. Moffitt would drive away, but ran out of time, and failed to repair his truck. He would be the 11th causality of the race, and the tenth resulting from a wreck. Bell, despite catching a bit of air as he spun, would continue.
Stage two took on a different personality. It started and ended with an all-GMS top four: Sauter, Grala, Gallagher, and Lagasse, in the same order. Much of the segment consisted of “freight train” style single-file racing. A flat right rear tire caused by damage from the lap one wreck would send John Hunter Nemechek spinning with only a couple of laps remaining in stage two. Sauter would win stage two under caution, as he and the field passed John Hunter Nemechek, putting him a lap down. Bobby Gerhart, a Daytona ringer, bowed out under yellow, reporting radiator issues. This left only 20 trucks on the track.
During the yellow-flag pit stops, Timothy Peters, Christopher Bell, and Grant Enfinger would play strategy, taking two or no tires. They accomplished their goal of breaking up the GMS quartet. On the ensuing restart, Christopher Bell took the lead from Peters. The racing began to take on the feel of the first segment again, much closer and more aggressive. Johnny Sauter took GMS back to the lead by lap 50, as the race hit its halfway point. Ben Rhodes, of the Thorsport team, sideways several times as he pushed to challenge Sauter, which he succeeded at, taking the lead by lap 53. Despite being only 20 years old, Rhodes blocked like a veteran to keep the lead, and the field returned to single file. The GMS trucks pitted on lap 67, about ten laps early, in an attempt to avoid the chaos of rest of the field pitting. Their plan was undermined when two of their drivers, Spencer Gallagher and Scott Lagasse Jr, were caught for speeding on pit road. Christopher Bell and Ben Rhodes then began a battle for the lead. Bell, however, would get loose exiting turn four, and was hit by Korbin Forrister. Forrister would retire from the race, while Bell got his damage repaired just inside the five minute limit.
GMS teammates Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala then led the field, putting that team back on top. As Chase Briscoe ran third, behind teammates, he and his crew chief strategized, trying to decide when to jump out and go for the lead, as the laps ticked down. Second and third place Grala and Briscoe, two younger drivers, were surrounded by veterans: Sauter in front, and Crafton, and Peters behind. They seemed outmatched, but everything changed when John Hunter Nemechek spun a second time. He even caught a little air as he turned backwards. That meant that the field would get back two-by-two, and would restart with two laps to go. GMS was still up front, with Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala. On the restart, however, Matt Crafton would take the lead away, leading the penultimate lap. Sauter would get caught in the middle in turn one, as he tried to get to the lead back. As the field shuffled around Sauter, Grant Enfinger pushed Ben Rhodes just a little bit too hard, turned Rhodes, who clipped leader Matt Crafton. Crafton nearly barrel rolled, before sliding across the track, and impacting the outside wall. Crafton’s number 88 truck then got air under it, and took off like a jet from the airport behind the track. He cleared Regan Smith completely, and landed on the tailgate of Johnny Sauter’s truck. Twelve trucks would be involved, and only fifteen trucks would cross the line. 18-year-old Kaz Grala emerged from fifth place before the wreck to capture the win, his first in the Camping World Truck Series, by the time the caution came out, to become the youngest driver to win at Daytona.
Grala was as amazed as anyone during his post-race interview. As he watched the replay, he interrupted his summary of the race with “Oh my gosh, someone flipped.” If this season looks anything like Friday night’s race, this’ll be one heck of a season.