Fifth with five laps to go Friday night, Cole Whitt had his "Holy %&^#!" moment. "I was like, 'Damn! We’re running fifth,'" he said. "No one expected us to be there, and that made it even more special."
Whitt’s 14th-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opener — his debut at Daytona International Speedway — has a rich history behind it. The 19-year-old rookie went from pacing final practice in Turn One Racing’s No. 60 to missing the show in qualifying to suddenly scoring a ride before the race. He hopped in the No. 93 truck and drove from back to front before the second Big One stole what could have been a top-five finish.
"Such an up-and-down weekend, highs and lows … insane," Whitt said. "First in practice, then we didn't qualify, thought we were going home and then we're in the race. … We were running 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and just wanted to sit there and stay in line. And here comes the outside. It was getting dicey. Guys were antsy. I saw the wreck happening and just got collected up in it."
Back in North Carolina, there's the reality of failing to qualify for the season-opening race. Luckily the turnaround is quick, as the Truck Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for Friday's Lucas Oil 150. Qualifying is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. ET on Friday.
Whitt made his Nationwide Series debut at the 1-mile flat track last November, leading final practice, qualifying 23rd and finishing 15th. He also won the USAC Silver Crown portion of the 2009 Copper World Classic there, leading the final 83 laps for his first victory on pavement.
"There was no shortage of effort at Daytona. It just shows how tough it's going to be this year," Whitt said. "That’s how good this series is. It seems to be as stout this year as it ever has in the past. Lots of young kids. Lots of really great veterans. Cup guys. Lots of competition. Just shows how hard it's going to be. We're going to have to suck it up and make it happen. We can't leave any time on the race track. We need to step up our game.
"Daytona was the first race of the year, and I'm just happy to come out of there with anything. I'll try to carry my momentum to the team. I'm good at Phoenix, and they'll have a good truck going there. We'll definitely regroup because we didn't have the debut we wanted."
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