DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Todd Bodine didn’t win two editions of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway by accident. But an accident on the last lap of Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener might’ve cost him an opportunity at a historic third win.
Bodine’s No. 13 Mattei Air Compressors Toyota was glued to the back bumper of ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton’s No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota and the pair had a huge draft of momentum heading toward the front of the field, where Johnny Sauter’s third ThorSport truck was working to hold off Kyle Busch on the white flag lap.
But heading into Turn 1, four trucks running behind Crafton and Bodine got tangled up, crashed and the race was instantly history when the yellow flag froze the field’s running order. Sauter’s No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota went to Victory Lane. Crafton ended up ninth and Bodine 11th in the final rundown.
In the aftermath — actually during a laugh-filled debrief with teammate Sauter that certainly had an inwardly gruesome twinge to it — all Bodine could do was ponder what might have been.
“Our ThorSport trucks should have been 1-2-3, we were all that good,” Bodine said. “I was committed to Johnny — my spotter knew I wasn’t going to pass him, no matter what happened. But when I got shuffled back, Matt was there and man, we were coming to the front.
“I think, if that last caution hadn’t come out, Johnny might’ve finished third or fourth. It would have been interesting.”
The result, even though it was disappointing for Bodine, who came into the event with an average start of ninth and average finish of fifth in eight career Daytona starts, had first-time NASCAR team sponsor Mattei, a producer of energy-efficient air compressors for commercial applications, absolutely giddy at the effort.
“Working with the people from Mattei made this a really special weekend,” Bodine said. “I said it before — when you can have a company with a great product excited about the exposure and activation they can achieve through NASCAR racing — it doesn’t get much better. That’s what I think we achieved with Mattei and ThorSport this weekend.”
Bodine’s 26th-place starting position didn’t highlight what the Daytona master — the only driver in 14 editions of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 that’s won it more than once — would do in the race. Bodine reached the top 10 before 25 laps were run and led eight laps, in two four-lap segments, before the three-quarter point.
Bodine led those laps racing around and against Busch — the driver who’s posted stunning victory numbers across all three NASCAR national tours in recent years but who was beaten by Bodine in each of the latter’s Daytona Truck Series wins.
Bodine ultimately did some of his best work when he hooked up with Sauter and pushed his teammate to the front of the field. Sauter had led lap 61, the first lap after an early restart, but when Bodine’s adeptness in the draft pushed Sauter into the lead, the Wisconsin pilot whose best previous Daytona finish was 17th paced the field for the final 16 laps — including one restart that was the fateful point of the event for Bodine.
As the field shuffled to get lined-up before a green flag with five laps remaining, Sauter misunderstood an attempt to communicate that Bodine would hold back the inside line of the grid at the restart, allowing Sauter to move in front of him and resume the positions that had set up at least a potential one-two finish before the caution had flown at lap 93.
Sauter, who had his choice of the inside or outside lanes, chose the more advantageous inside lane. Bodine, who knew his truck was having trouble taking off on restarts, was outside of him. When the green flag flew, Bodine went backwards in a hurry, but playing committed teammate to the end, picked up another ThorSport partner near the back of the field and pushed Crafton to his fifth career Daytona top-10 finish, but his fourth in the last five years.
-ThorSport Racing PR