Austin Hill survives carnage to win season-opener at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The defending NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team returned and won their third consecutive race, but this time they had a new man behind the wheel of their hot rod.

Austin Hill took over the No. 16 Toyota from reigning series champion Brett Moffitt, who was unable to secure sponsorship to remain in the seat, and held off Grant Enfinger in Friday night’s season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

On the restart of the second overtime, Hill got ahead of the field and threw a huge block to prevent Matt Crafton from getting to the point. Throughout the race, Hill would get out to sizeable leads but somehow managed to keep the pack behind him. It was the same story in the end as he held off Enfinger to win his first Truck race in his 52nd career start.

“Man, this truck was fast, it really was. I knew we had a truck that could compete,” Hill said in Victory Lane. “I got a little scared there at the end. I thought (Enfinger) was going to get me, he had a big run.

“I can’t believe my first win came at Daytona. It’s so surreal. I can’t wait to party with these guys.”

Hill was constantly reminded by his crew to save fuel, but he was still nervous that he might run out.

“We pitted really early, and we already knew it was going to be close and then when we went overtime, I was so scared,” he said. “I just knew I was going to run out off (Turn) 4 and not make it to the line.

“So much stuff was going through my head, but – hey – we’re in Victory Lane.”

Ross Chastain finished third, Spencer Boyd was fourth, and Crafton slipped to fifth.

The first big wreck occurred on Lap 53 of the scheduled 100 lap race when Jordan Anderson got tapped by Sheldon Creed, which collected nearly a dozen trucks. Among those who were taken out of contention included Moffitt, Johnny Sauter, Brennan Poole, Myatt Snider, and Christian Eckes.

Eckes’ truck erupted in flames on Lap 63 coming down the frontstretch to bring out the caution. He was uninjured.

The race resumed on Lap 70, with Hill leading the pack.

On Lap 77, Cory Roper, who was making just his seventh Trucks start, got out of the groove and made contact with Ben Rhodes, causing him to spin and slam the inside wall to bring out another caution. Rhodes ended up taking the lead.

With 13 laps to go, Rhodes remained in front of the field followed by Stewart Friesen and Gus Dean.

The caution came out again on Lap 89 when Todd Gilliland got into his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Harrison Burton on the backstretch, sending them both wrecking into the wall off Turn 2.

The race returned to green with seven laps left, but Clay Greenfield and Timothy Peters wrecked on the restart lap.

The race restarted with three laps to go with Rhodes at the point, followed by Hill, and Dean. However, Creed got into Dean, which triggered another massive wreck to send the race into the first overtime. Rhodes did not make it out unscathed, ending his evening.

Sauter held off Friesen to win Stage 2, and Creed won Stage 1 with Hill behind him in second.

Angela Ruch, the niece of 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope finished in eighth, the best finish of her career in any major series.

Billy Rock, a crewmember for the FDNY Racing team and driver Bryan Dauzat, was injured earlier in the race in a pit-road incident.

Rock, the team’s jackman, was struck by Dauzat’s No. 28 Chevrolet, which had lost its brakes. Rock was transported to Halifax Health Medical Center for further evaluation, and NASCAR officials said he was “awake and alert.” The nature of any injuries to Rock, however, were not disclosed.

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