Story By: NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter is the lone entrant in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 who has visited Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway.
And he’s done it twice (2013, 2016).
The veteran driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet for GMS Racing is looking to capture his third season-opening victory when the series gets started Friday night under the lights (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Sauter has posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes in nine starts at the World Center of Racing. Only Matt Crafton (seven) and Travis Kvapil (five) have more top-10 finishes at Daytona among active drivers entered in the race.
All In The Family
Todd Gilliland, who will eventually pilot the No. 4 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports starting at Martinsville, started off Speedweeks with a thrilling win over fellow NASCAR Next driver Harrison Burton in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night.
But he’ll have to sit on the sidelines for the NextEra Energy 250 because he’s still just 17 years old…and the minimum age for drivers at Daytona is 18.
KBM didn’t have to look far to find a substitute driver for this weekend, however. Todd’s father David, who has led the field to green in the Daytona 500 (2007), is stepping up to the plate.
David understands how meaningful it is to fill in for Todd, “I’m really excited to be running Daytona and sharing the truck with my son, Todd, which is really special.”
In addition to winning the pole for the 2007 Daytona 500, David also paced the field for the July race in 2014. He tallied 332 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts – and will make it 333 this Sunday, as he’s driving the No. 92 Ford for RBR Enterprises in the Daytona 500.
Step By Step
There are four relatively new kids on the block chasing the Sunoco Rookie of the Year prize for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season.
Todd Gilliland (just 17-years old and unable to race until Martinsville due to age restrictions), Myatt Snider (No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford), Dalton Sargeant (No. 25 GMS Racing Chevrolet) and Justin Fontaine (No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet) have all tossed their hats into the ring for the title bout.
Gilliland will drive a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, ensuring that all three manufacturers are represented in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle.
Todd Gilliland: Made six starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, making his debut at Dover. He tallied two top-five and three top-10 finishes in his limited schedule. He also won 10 NASCAR K&N Pro Series races last year, winning the title in the West and finishing second in the East.
Myatt Snider: Made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Phoenix in 2016, his lone series race that season. He went on to compete in eight races last year with one top five and three top 10s.
Dalton Sargeant: Has made six starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (four in 2015, two in 2017). He tallied two top-10s in his 2015 campaign. He also ran a complete NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season in 2015, posting six top-five and nine top-10 finishes.
Justin Fontaine: Has the fewest starts in the series of the group, competing in one race in 2016 and two last year. He also ran four K&N Pro Series East races in 2016.
ThorSport Racing Gets Makeover For 2018
More than two decades of racing, split between Chevrolet and Toyota emblems on the nose of their trucks, yields to the “Blue Oval” this season as ThorSport Racing transitions to Ford for 2018.
ThorSport made the announcement in late January that it would change manufacturers and followed that up in February by filling out their lineup. The team will compete with four drivers this season, led by two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton. Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger and Sunoco Rookie of the Year Contender Myatt Snider round out the starting lineup.
Of the change, Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said, “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”
ThorSport is hoping that the change in manufacturer will get them an elusive win at Daytona. In 32 starts by the team’s trucks, they have yet to visit Victory Lane while posting two top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. They have led just 47 laps on the high banks in Florida.
Crafton holds seven of those top-10 finishes, including a team-best of fifth in the 2010 race. His only active teammate to also post a top 10 at Daytona for the team is Ben Rhodes in 2016.
Ringing In A New Championship Hope
Christopher Bell, the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, helped powerhouse team Kyle Busch Motorsports to their sixth owners championship overall – and fifth in a row.
But he’s taking his talents elsewhere, as he makes the jump to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and a ride with Joe Gibbs Racing. Don’t worry though, KBM is still deep in young talent and expects to contend for their third driver championship and seventh owner title.
Noah Gragson captured three pole awards in 2017 before driving into Victory Lane for his first NASCAR national series win at Martinsville in the fall. He put together four top-five and 13 top-10 finishes last season.
Gragson has made just one start at Daytona, finishing 26th in last year’s race after an early wreck.
He’ll be joined by NASCAR Next sensation Todd Gilliland, who will drive 19 races as he chases the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
A third KBM Toyota Tundra will be split between Kyle Busch, Harrison Burton, Brandon Jones, Spencer Davis and Riley Herbst.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, etc.
No chance for a repeat: Just one driver has won back-to-back NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Daytona – Todd Bodine in 2008-09. Last year’s winner, Kaz Grala, has moved to the NASCAR XFINITY Series and will not attempt to defend his victory.