|PHOTO: Jared Haas, @RealJaredHaas|
by Brock Beard
Dean Thompson picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career in Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 at the Daytona International Speedway when his #5 Thompson Pipe Group Toyota was involved in a multi-truck accident after 28 of 79 laps.
The finish, which happened in Thompson’s 25th series start, was his first of the season and first since April 7, 2022 at Martinsville, 19 races ago. In the Truck Series’ rankings, it was the 4th for the #5, the 48th for Toyota, and the 180th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 40th for the #5, the 389th for Toyota, and the 1,317th from a crash.
Driving for Niece Motorsports at the time, then-rookie Thompson led the 2022 LASTCAR Truck Series Championship nearly all season, beginning with crash damage in Daytona and continuing through a fire in the driver’s cockpit at Martinsville. Only a late-season series of struggles by Spencer Boyd led to the title changing hands at Homestead. This captured the frustrations of a lackluster season with a best finish of 11th at Las Vegas and five DNFs, three due to crashes. As the year progressed, his sponsor Worldwide Express started to venture beyond his team – first to teammate Carson Hocevar, then to Ross Chastain’s Cup effort at Trackhouse Racing.
But the offseason presented a new opportunity. On December 5, 2022, Thompson signed with TRICON Garage, the new Toyota team formed after Kyle Busch’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing. With the restructuring of what was once David Gilliland Racing’s Ford team, TRICON put Thompson into one of three new entries on the now five-truck effort, campaigning the #5. Joining as sponsor was Thompson Pipe Group, which the team’s press release indicated is a “leading water and waste piping manufacturer across the United States and Canada.”
Thompson qualified 18th with a speed of 177.708mph. The fastest truck sent home was Lawless Alan, Thompson’s former teammate at Niece, though it was rumored Alan’s team would buy a spot in the field. This never came to pass, and Alan’s #45 AUTODockit Chevrolet was sent home with Bryan Dauzat in the #28 FDNY / O.B. Builders Chevrolet, Todd Peck in the unsponsored #96 Toyota, Spencer Boyd in the #12 Freedom Warranty Chevrolet, Kaden Honeycutt in the #04 FlyAllianceCar Quest Ford, and Norm Benning in the #46 Middle Department Inspection Agency Toyota. Benning, who took the place of Johnny Sauter at G2G Racing, had run 10th in the lone practice session.
Rolling off 36th and last was Jason M. White of Canada – as opposed to Virginia’s Jason A. White, who started TRICON Garage’s #1 Celsius Toyota – in the #34 Powder Ventures Excavations Toyota, slowest in qualifying with a speed of just 166.417mph (54.081 seconds), nearly five seconds off the pole. Jason M.’s truck recognized the efforts of the Mooresville Fire Department, who 22 days ago extinguished a blaze that seriously damaged the Reaume Brothers Racing shop. Both Reaume trucks qualified for the race as new teammate Mason Massey ranked 35th in the #33 Brunt Ford, along with Reaume himself in AM Racing’s #22 JAG Metals Ford.
Both Reaume and Jason M. White were among the seven trucks sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments, including 5th-place Corey LaJoie in the #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet, 10th-place Chase Purdy in the #4 Bama Buggies Chevrolet, 29th-place Daniel Dye in the #43 Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza Chevrolet, 31st-place Clay Greenfield in the #84 Backyard Blues Pools Toyota, and 33rd-place Chris Hacker in the #30 Morgan & Morgan P.A. Toyota. This changed the order so that, crossing under the green flag, Hacker had taken over last place, 4.029 seconds back of the lead.
By the end of Lap 1, Jason M. retook the last spot, but a quick caution fell for the first of a series of pop-up rain showers. Under this yellow, a few trucks hit pit road, including Derek Kraus, who pitted his #20 Hardscape Construction Inc. Chevrolet. Tyler Ankrum took the spot on Lap 6 in his #16 Liuna Toyota, and was still there on the Lap 7 restart when rain force the caution once more. Ankrum dispensed with Jason M. the next time by, but Ankrum pitted again under this caution, putting him back to 36th on Lap 9. Ankrum then passed Kris Wright, whose #02 F.N.B. Corporation Chevrolet followed by Timmy Hill’s #56 Coble Enterprises Toyota on the 11th circuit and Reaume back to last on Lap 12. With the race under green, Reaume drew alongside Jason M., the pair just 0.099 second apart at the stripe.
But on Lap 15, Reaume had an issue with the master switch that caused him to lose touch with the pack, already 1.668 seconds back of Jason M. The deficit grew to 2.316 seconds on Lap 17, when Reaume remarked that it “smells like popcorn in here, not sure if it’s electrical.” By then, the Reaume-owned trucks of Jason M. and Massey had also dropped back of the pack, and Reaume caught the pair to form a three-truck draft on Lap 19. The Stage 1 caution on Lap 22 led to more pit stops, putting Massey to last, followed by Codie Rohrbaugh’s #97 Grant County Mulch Chevrolet on Lap 23. Reaume came in for an extended stop, which put him back to last on Lap 24, and he finally returned to the track as the pace car came off Turn 4. Reaume caught the tail end of the field for the Lap 26 restart, and this time kept up with the pack.
On Lap 29, Reaume and his teammates were among the few drivers who had dropped behind the lead pack in a draft of their own. This proved well-timed, as the night’s first big wreck broke out some distance ahead. Caught in the middle of a three-wide pack, Clay Greenfield’s #84 was pinballed between the #51 Eberlestock Chevrolet to his inside and Ty Majeski’s #98 Road Ranger Ford to his outside. Greenfield broke loose, clipped another passing truck to his inside, then cut right into traffic. Stuck in the outside lane some distance back of Greenfield, Thompson had nowhere to go and hit Matt DiBenedetto’s #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, which hooked left into Greenfield. Thompson pulled low with nose damage, a small fire erupting beneath his machine as he slid to a stop on the apron. Thompson started to roll again, but his spotter told him to stop as he was leaking fluid.
With that, Thompson climbed from his truck, last in Daytona’s opener for a second-straight year. He was joined in the medical center by Greenfield and Hailie Deegan, who suffered significant damage to her #13 Ford Performance Ford. Completing the Bottom Five were Codie Rohrbaugh and Parker Kligerman in the #75 Purina / Food Country USA Chevrolet, both involved in a later crash entering Turn 3.
Thompson was understandably frustrated in his interview after he was checked and released from the infield care center, stating that he didn’t feel like he had the opportunity to challenge for wins last year, and wanted to capitalize on this new chance with Toyota. He did say he was looking forward to the upcoming race at Darlington, his favorite track.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #5 in a Truck Series race since August 22, 2012, when Johnny Chapman had electrical issues after 2 laps around Bristol.
*This marked the first time any truck numbered between #0 and #11 had ever finished last in a Truck Series race at Daytona.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #5-Dean Thompson / 28 laps / crash
35) #13-Hailie Deegan / 28 laps / crash
34) #84-Clay Greenfield / 28 laps / crash
33) #97-Codie Rohrbaugh / 39 laps / crash
32) #75-Parker Kligerman / 45 laps / dvp
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TRICON Garage (1)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (1)
2023 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
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