With a 5th place finish in the NASCAR Truck opening round at Daytona, Natalie Decker claimed the best result for a woman in the series history.
As per tradition, the NASCAR season opens at Daytona with the "Great American Race" and the Truck series also held its 2020 debut race at the Florida venue last Friday. No doubt it was another crazy, thrilling event, which featured a double-overtime finish and ultimately provided an unexpected race winner. But the star of the day was Natalie Decker, who clinched her maiden top-5 finish and best career result.
Three ladies appeared on the entry list: Natalie Decker, Angela Ruch and Jennifer Jo-Cobb. Decker, at her second season in the Truck series and one week after an unlucky ARCA Menards race, qualified in 30th position. Angela Ruch was back for a full-season Truck season as well and took the start from the 32nd slot. Unfortunately, experienced racer Jennifer Jo-Cobb didn't make the cut and could not take the start.
At the beginning of the opening stage, most of the drivers holding the inside line took advantage from their positions and seized the top-ten spots. Riley Herbst grabbed the race leadership, while Decker found herself around P25 after a clean start.
After 16 laps, the race was stopped by a red flag when Natalie's Niece Motorsports teammate Ty Majesky went upside-down and destroyed his #45 truck after a contact with Austin Wayne Self, fortunalety without suffering serious consequences.
A few laps after the restart, the first stage came to a close with Riley Herbst ahead of the pack, followed by Tyler Ankrum in second and Christian Eckes in third.
Decker closed the first stage without taking unnecessary risks.
In the following 20 laps of the second stage, the battle for the lead gained the spotlight, as Grant Enfinger moved up into the first position and defended it until the end of the stage, while the previous leader Riley Herbst dropped to fifth.
The third stage resumed with the battle for first-place between Grant Enfinger and Houstin Hill, with the two drivers switching postions in a compelling duel.
On laps 66, Angela Ruch, who until that moment had had a remarkably positive race and was running in the top-10, tried a move on Derek Kraus and Tyler Ankrum. In the process, she unfortunately lost the car and crashed out of the race, with several other trucks involved.
Race leader Grant Enfiger led the field for more laps after the caution, until he started to drop back the order with 20 laps to go and Rhodes took the lead.
Rhodes fought hard to keep his position and become a Daytona winner but with 3 laps to go, the biggest accident of the night changed all the plans.
Rhodes spun and made contact with Todd Gilliland, involving in the crash most of the front-runners.
Grant Enfinger managed to hold on to the lead and took the checkered flag with a dramatic photo-finish move ahead of Jordan Anderson.
Natalie Decker made the most out of the perfect Niece Motorsports strategy: she ran a clean race and stayed away from risks for the majority of the race, but was stunningly able to climb the order at the last caution and had an amazing comeback from 13th during the overtime, moving up more places until the final P5. She thus claimed the best ever result for a female driver in a Truck series race.
"What an amazing night, all made possible by my amazing Niece Motorsports crew chief, team and spotter Rocky Ryan!" - she commented. "My team had a strategy and even I thought it was hard to hang in the back the whole race, but it paid off in the end!
So proud of my team and cant thank them enough."
Decker, always a fan-favourite, also commented on how her supporters were always by her side throughout the last seasons: "Natalie Nation you are the best and continue to lift me up! I love you all!".
Natalie Decker will be back at the wheel of the #44 Niece Motorsports truck in Las Vegas on February 21st for the second round of the NASCAR Gander RV Outdoors Truck Series.
In Natalie's words:
"My team had a strategy and even I thought it was hard to hang in the back the whole race, but it paid off in the end!"
Ph credits: NASCAR