Daytona Beach, Fla. — Johnny Sauter won the crash-filled Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night, giving Chevrolet its first series victory at the famed track.
Sauter was out front on the final lap when the caution flag dropped following a harrowing wreck that sent Christopher Bell’s truck flipping through the air. Bell’s No. 4 Toyota flipped nearly 10 times before coming to a stop. Bell got out and walked to a waiting ambulance, a welcome sight at a track where there have been a number of scary wrecks in recent years.
Bell was transported to a hospital for further evaluation.
Sauter, meanwhile, headed to victory lane to celebrate his second series win at Daytona and first since 2013.
“This is a big one,” said Sauter, whose dad, Jim, died last fall. “This is extra special for me. This is my first win without my dad being around. I miss him a lot. He won here in the ARCA Series back in 1978, so for me to get my second win, this is pretty special.”
Sauter also all but locked up a spot in the Chase in the Truck Series, a change for 2016.
“I’m so pumped to get Chevrolet to victory lane here,” he said. “This was an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Ryan Truex finished second, followed by Parker Kligerman, Brandon Brown and Tyler Young.
The 100-lap race had two huge melees in the final 10 laps, the first one causing a red flag that lasted nearly 30 minutes.
The second one ended the race and had all eyes on Bell, whose truck was heavily damaged in a wreck that has become common in the final laps at Daytona. Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson walked away from similar crashes in the Xfinity Series. Kyle Busch wasn’t so fortunate last year, breaking his right leg and left foot in a hard crash into a concrete wall.
Daytona officials responded by installing more than 8,500 feet of “soft walls” around the track.
Austin Theriault, who broke his back last year crashing into a concrete wall, thanked NASCAR and Daytona for its commitment to SAFER barriers following the first crash Friday.
Timothy Peters nudged Cameron Haley from behind, turning Haley sideways and starting a huge debacle that collected half the field. The crash happened in Turn 3 with eight laps to go and stopped the race for 28 minutes.
Theriault, pole-sitter Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, John Wes Townley, Rico Abreu, Cole Custer and Ben Kennedy were among the 18 trucks involved. Most of them ended up in the garage.
Only 17 trucks were on the lead lap with a restart with two to go.
Peters blamed others around him for getting the melee started.
“It ain’t all my fault,” Peters told his team over the radio.
Haley watched the replay and said “I guess that’s Daytona.”
“We just caught bumpers at the wrong way,” he added. “It’s just hard racing. Everyone’s bumping into each other and trying to hold a pretty wheel.”