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Huge last-lap crash gives Kaz Grala historic win in NASCAR Truck Series opener

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota, flips during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton flips through the air on the final lap of the Camping World Truck Series opener at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kaz Grala escaped a huge crash on the last lap of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 to become the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history at Daytona International Speedway.

Grala, 18, was running near the front when a 12-truck crash broke out that saw Matt Crafton go airborne, flip and land on the back of Johnny Sauter‘s No. 21 truck.

Grala, who sat on the pole, managed to evade the mayhem in his No. 33 GMS Racing Truck and take the checkered flag. The native of Boston was the youngest Daytona pole-sitter in NASCAR history.

The win comes in Grala’s 10th Truck start and is his first top five.

“I wish you could tell me (how I won the race),” Grala told Fox Sports 1. “I didn’t know what I was doing out there. I don’t know how to go a donut. I don’t know how to do a victory lap like that. I just know that I’m Polish, so I figured I should drive backwards.”

Grala followed his teammate, Sauter, for most of the night until a two-lap shootout after a late caution. Grala said his radio chord came undone on Lap 79 and he wasn’t able to get it functioning again until right before the final restart of the 100-lap race.

“Honestly I got lucky coming out of (Turn) 2 there, I just didn’t lift and everything went crazy around me,” Grala said. “I can’t believe we won Daytona. This completely changes the season in a way we can play it.”

Grala was followed by Austin Wayne Self, Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek and Joe Nemechek.

Grala was the first official winner of a NASCAR national race since the introduction of the new stage race format.

Stage 1 winner: Johnny Sauter

Stage 2 winner: Johnny Sauter

MORE: Truck Series points standings

MORE: Race results and stats

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Most of the drivers who were not involved in the two massive wrecks that marked the beginning and end of the race … Chase Briscoe was the driver the triggered a 14 car accident on Lap 2, but he finished third. Myatt Snider and JJ Yeley finished in the top 10 … Regan Smith was involved in the last-lap crash, but finished sixth … John Hunter Nemechek rebounded from a Lap 95 spin to finished fourth. He was followed by his father, Joe Nemechek.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Most of the 14 drivers involved in a crash at the beginning of the second lap. Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, John Hunter Nemechek, Clay Greenfield, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Tommy Joe Martins, Tyler Young, Chase Briscoe, J.J. Yeley, Terry Jones, Cody Coughlin, Snider and Bobby Gerhart.  The wreck began when Cindric turned Gragson into the outside wall as the field approached Turn 1. Gragson then came back down the track as cars began collecting in the wreck …

The end of the first 20-lap stage saw a crash involving Brett Moffitt and Christopher Bell, with Bell going airborne. Bell continued, but Moffitt’s night ended with the expiration of the five-minute damage clock … Bell was involved in a second crash with Korbin Forrister with 29 to go. Bell finished eighth on the lead lap.

Twelve drivers were involved in the lap crash: Crafton (14th), Sauter (15th), Ben Rhodes (12th), Travis Kvapil (24th), Regan Smith (sixth), Bell (eighth), Self (second), Myatt Snider (10th), Cody Coughlin (11th), Timothy Peters (17th), Gallagher (13th) and Grant Enfinger (16th).

NOTABLE: GMS Racing has now won two straight season-opening races at Daytona. Sauter won last year’s race.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “It got wild. We all knew it was. The whole race was really wild. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and fortunately I was able to find the right place and be there at the right time, and that’s why we came home second.” – Austin Wayne Self, who finished second for his first top five in 17 Truck Series starts.

WHAT’S NEXT: Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 4:30 p.m. ET on March 4 on Fox Sports 1.

 

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.