James Buescher picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #44 FHE FracLock Chevrolet was collected in a multi-truck accident without completing any of the 101 laps.
The finish, which came in Buescher’s 121st start, was the second of his career and first since April 2, 2011, 226 races ago. In the Truck Series last-place rankings, it was the 8th for the #44, the 163rd from a crash, and the 400th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 62nd for the #44, the 1,235th from a wreck, and the 1,759th for Chevrolet.
It was last October when Buescher, the 2012 Truck Series Champion, made his first start in the division in over five years. The Texan picked up a ride in one of Al Niece’s Chevrolets – the part-time #42 that had started just 7 of the season’s first 20 races. Sponsoring the effort was FHE FracLock, a company specializing in pressure control equipment for wells. With no qualifying, Buescher started just 36th in the field of 37, but climbed to an impressive lead-lap finish in 15th.
The run earned Buescher another ride with Niece for the 2021 opener at Daytona, where this time he would drive the team’s #44, raced for much of last season by Natalie Decker. GR Energy Services and Mobil 1 joined as associate sponsors, buying space on the quarter-panels, plus The Shore Resort & Spa on the rear decklid.
Buescher was one of the 46 drivers who made up the largest entry list for Daytona’s Truck Series race since 2011. After running 14th-fastest in opening practice, he had a good qualifying lap going when he dipped below the yellow line, disallowing his time. Only his Past Champions’ Provisional kept him in the field, taking the 36th and final spot as a result. The ten drivers who missed the cut were Parker Kligerman, Joe Nemechek, Todd Peck, Spencer Davis, Dawson Cram, Norm Benning, Jesse Iwuji, Ray Ciccarelli, Clay Greenfield, and Tim Viens. Viens was the only driver to not turn a lap in practice after the driveshaft fell from under his #83 Boat Gadget / Barker Construction Chevrolet while the crew pushed him down pit road.
On race night, Buescher was joined at the tail end of the field by 33rd-place starter Derek Kraus, docked for unapproved adjustments on his #19 MHR Shockwave Toyota. Both would roll out ahead of longtime owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb, who locked herself in with a sterling 16th-place qualifying run. Debuting a new paint scheme thanks to increased backing from sponsor Fastener Supply Company, Cobb elected to drop back to avoid trouble in the early laps. This strategy would end up putting her in danger much sooner than anyone anticipated.
Just before the start, James Buescher talked with his crew. “We’ve got all our mistakes out of the way – hopefully.” The response: “God, I hope so.”
When the green flag dropped, 22nd-place starter Tanner Gray had a problem in the drivetrain, his #15 Ford Performance Ford trailing smoke as the field split him on both sides. Some of these trucks hesitated, not wanting to pass Gray before the line. An accordion effect resulted, and the last few trucks in line piled into each other. Buescher smashed into the rear of 34th-place Gus Dean, whose white #56 Dean Custom Air Chevrolet rammed the penalized Kraus into a spin. NASCAR told Buescher to stop his smoking truck on the apron, which he did just past the starting line. By the time he dropped the window net, the rest of those involved had dropped him to last place. This included Cobb, who dropped back far enough to avoid being collected in the wreck. She finished a solid 18th.
After Cobb passed them, Gray, Kraus, and Dean continued back around the track. Gray pulled behind the wall short of the starting line while Kraus and Dean were put on the “Crash Clock.” Dean suffered the heaviest damage of the two, the nose of his Chevrolet shoved out of alignment, requiring several strips of tape. He made it just one lap, dropping Gray to 35th, before pulling behind the wall, out under the DVP. Kraus continued on with damage to the passenger-side door, and would ultimately be involved in at least two more incidents, leaving him 33rd, also out under the DVP. Gray’s team put the #15 on jack stands and communicated over the radio through the first 30 laps, but ultimately didn’t return to the track. Rounding out the group was Stewart Friesen, whose damaged #52 Halmar International Toyota was collected in a backstretch wreck with five others on Lap 72.
For the second-straight year, both Jordan Anderson and Codie Rohrbaugh figured in the finish of the Daytona race. Anderson was again edged by a ThorSport entry – this time Ben Rhodes, who beat him by .036 second at the stripe. Rohrbaugh, who was drafting with Anderson in the final laps, found his way through the night’s final massive wreck to finish in 8th.
But the night’s biggest star was Cory Roper, who nearly pulled off an upset victory. In both 2019 and 2020, sponsorship issues had forced Roper to scale back his plans to run full-time. Last year, he stopped running altogether at the season’s halfway point. He was particularly strong in both his previous attempts on the Daytona oval. In 2019, he was running 2nd with 23 laps to go when he spun off Turn 4 and slammed the inside wall. In 2020, he dodged a late-race pileup to restart 11th in overtime, then crossed the line in 14th. This time around, he restarted 6th at the end of regulation, then shoved Sheldon Creed to the lead. A daring move exiting the tri-oval got Roper the lead on the final lap, which he held until just yards from the finish line. He held on to finish 3rd – his first top-five finish in just his 28th series start.
*This marked the second time the #44 finished last in the Truck Series race at Daytona. The first time occurred February 9, 2016, when Tommy Joe Martins’ #44 Diamond Gusset Jeans Chevrolet was involved in a crash after 11 laps.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #44-James Buescher / 0 laps / crash
35) #15-Tanner Gray / 0 laps / drivetrain
34) #56-Gus Dean / 1 lap / dvp
33) #19-Derek Kraus / 56 laps / dvp
32) #52-Stewart Friesen / 71 laps / crash
2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Niece Motorsports (1)
2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)
2021 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP