While it won't go down as the greatest Daytona race in the history of the Truck Series (2016's running ranks as number one or two) the 2017 Nextera Truck 250 saw awesome racing and also hair-raising melees and served as the first running of the new points incentives NASCAR has implemented with Monster Energy Drink's entry into sponsorship of the Winston Cup Grand National series.
NASCAR's new "stage" concept rewards bonus points for top-10 positions after two stages initiating the race, the two stages encompassing roughly the first half of each race. This incentive to go to the front early certainly showed itself with a spectacular 20-lap opening run following an early melee, the lead changing hands over and over and Christopher Bell making a stirring shot for the first segment win - a challenge torn asunder as shown here by Spencer Gallagher's curious Ernie Irvan imitation.
The melee at the end of Lap 20 appeared to spook the field, who pounded out laps for most of the second segment and the fight for the lead raged on and off until another Christopher Bell crash just as green flag stops began threw things into confusion.
Bell had a rough night - and still finished eighth. He wasn't the only driver with that roller coaster as John Hunter Nemechek crashed several times - and still finished third while his dad, who hasn't raced a whole lot the last three seasons, grabbed fourth - and ultimately the race came to a green-white-checker finish and what looked to be the most amazing finish in Daytona history instead became the biggest wreck of Speedweeks so far, a race that wiped out Johnny Sauter, Ben Rhodes, and Matt Crafton's amazing bid for the win - and left a surprised rookie in Kaz Grala - a native of Boston, MA, known in racing circles for the fiasco of the aborted Boston Indycar street race - as the youngest winner in NASCAR history.
It was a curious night for Grala, who led fourteen laps from the pole yet took a fairly distant back seat to the fight for the lead that raged during this night.
The chaos of the race leaves us with the following takes -
NASCAR's new stages clearly added some needed incentive to go for the lead early on - always a good thing for competition.
The Trucks showed noticeably better lane discipline than the Cup cars, due in large part because the draft is more effective with the Trucks, but also because the Truck racers are making push-drafting more and more effective within the excessive rules box NASCAR has put them in. This not only increased passing, it cut down markedly on the blocking that is becoming a problem in the Cup series.
And lost in everything were astonishing finishes by Austin Wayne Self and Chase Briscoe.
And so has begun NASCAR's brave new world of bonus points for race stages - and it leaves one wondering how the rest of Speedweeks - and of 2017 - will play out.