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Slumping Nemechek Sets Sights On Fun At TMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 8 2017

John Hunter Nemechek is not having a great year in the Truck Series.
(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Teenager John Hunter Nemechek has the perfect attitude to deal with a promising NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season that has morphed into a slump.

“I still have fun, no matter if it’s a bad day or a good day,” said Nemechek, who will look to snap a 14-race winless streak during Friday night’s 21st annual 400-miler at Texas Motor Speedway. “You still have to take the positives out of it. You have to make sure you’re having fun.

“I wouldn’t really say it’s a motivation thing to come back to the racetrack every week. I love going fast. I love driving race cars. It’s just something I’m very passionate (about) and determined to make it to the top. So the motivation is there 100 percent all the time. If you have a mechanical failure I’d rather get right back in the race car and go show ‘em what we really have.”

What John Hunter has through the season’s first six races is two top-five finishes, two top-10s and two DNFs. He will tackle TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval after logging consecutive 22nd-place finishes at sister track Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. A season-best third-place result at Kansas Speedway and a fourth-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway have been offset by respective 29th and 28th-place results at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

Victories last season at AMS, another sister track to TMS, and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, locked John Hunter into the NCWTS playoffs. John Hunter currently sits 12th in the standings with 141 points, a distant 150 behind reigning series champion Johnny Sauter of GMS Racing.

At times like these, John Hunter knows where to turn for advice. “The best piece of advice my dad has ever given me probably is to have patience, work hard, stay focused and never give up,” said John Hunter, son of former NASCAR touring series regular “Front Row” Joe Nemechek. “I wouldn’t say there’s one thing he’s ever told me that you don’t take into consideration every day.

“The biggest thing is working hard and being at the shop every day, working on the race car, getting my hands dirty, being there with all the guys. I can make myself a better race driver by just learning what each component does _ it makes victory that much sweeter when you know you’ve had a part in it.”

John Hunter’s career totals show one pole, three wins, 16 top-five and 29 top-10 results. “My goal is to win,” said John Hunter, who made his series debut at age 16 at Martinsville Speedway in 2013. “We wouldn’t show up at a racetrack if we don’t think we can win. The overall goal is to just finish a race. We’ve run six races this year and we’ve two DNFs and three mechanical failures. So it kinda stinks when we’ve been running top-five as we unload off the gate, with trucks I think could have won races, but the cards just haven’t played right.”

John Hunter stood fifth after Thursday’s opening 55-minute practice here with a lap at 180.246 mph in his No. 8 Chevrolet Silverado. The session was topped by Christopher Bell at 182.877 mph in the No. 4 JBL Toyota fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Bell also retained P1 after the second practice, raising the speed mark to 185.300 mph. Nemechek remained fifth, although improving his speed to 183.786 mph.  Qualifying is scheduled for 5:35 p.m. (EDT) Friday.

John Hunter previewed TMS’ repaved surface during a promotional appearance here on May 23 via a “lap or two” in a rental car. In addition to a complete repave of the 1.5-mile oval and pit road, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and widened from 60 to 80 feet. Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees.

“It’s way smoother than the old surface,” said John Hunter, who was voted the series’ Most Popular Driver in 2015. “It’s really not that abrasive compared to the old surface. I know watching the Xfinity and Cup races here (in April) it’s really fast but it took a little bit to get there, they had to put a lot of rubber down. Normally we don’t put a lot of rubber down for the summer race, so hopefully we can scrub some tires. If not, it’s going to be a fun race and track position is really going to matter.

“I don’t see why our trucks won’t run wide open for almost a whole fuel run. I think it’s going to be really aero-sensitive trying to pass guys, somewhat similar to what you saw at Kentucky (Speedway) last July. I know the past couple of years I’ve run here you were able to run wide open for probably five or six laps and then you’d have to start lifting because of tire wear. Lap times would drop off quite a bit. I don’t think you’re going to see tire wear come into a huge factor. I think it’s going to be wide open and very competitive.”

In three starts at TMS, John Hunter has a best start of 12th (2015) with a single lap-led, and best finish of sixth (last June).

Friday’s race, set for 167 laps/250.5-miles, will be televised beginning at 8 p.m. (EDT) on FOX Sports 1 along with MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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In what has become a TMS June tradition, 18-year-old NCWTS rookie Noah Gragson will experience the pomp and circumstance of graduating from high school before Friday night’s race.

Due to his racing schedule, Gragson did not attend a traditional high school in his hometown of Las Vegas, instead taking online courses at the K12 International Academy. TMS, however, has become a “second home” to Truck Series drivers caught in that predicament, so Gragson will get to enjoy that coming-of-age moment prior to Friday night’s winstaronlinegaming.com 400.

During pre-race activities Gragson will walk the stage in cap and gown to “Pomp & Circumstance” and receive his on-line diploma from TMS President Eddie Gossage, decked-out in faculty cap and gown. Several of Gragson’s family members will be present, most notably parents Scott and Jill Gragson.

“Having my graduation walk at Texas is going to be cool,” Gragson said. “A lot of my family is coming in for it, including my parents, grandparents and my sister (Addison) who goes to college in Texas (SMU in Dallas). She’s in a sorority, so I’m trying to convince her to bring all of her sorority sisters so I can have a good-looking cheering section in the stands.”

The high school graduation tradition at TMS began in 2014 when the speedway hosted a commencement ceremony for Erik Jones, who graduated from Swartz Creek (Mich.) Community Schools. Last year, Cole Custer bypassed his graduation ceremony at Tesoro High School in Santa Margarita, Calif., to compete in the Truck Series race at TMS and received a ceremony as well.

“I passed all of my finals, so now I just have to get the diploma and move the tassel from one side of the cap to the other to make my high school graduation official,” Gragson said. “Only a select group of graduates wear their gown over a fire suit and have Eddie Gossage hand them a diploma, so I’m excited.”

Following the ceremony, Gragson will slide into the No. 18Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports and make his first appearance on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval. Gragson, a NCWTS Rookie of the Year candidate, is 10th in points.

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Reigning NCWTS champion Johnny Sauter captured his first career win at Dover International Speedway after fuel strategy helped him hold off Rookie of the Year contender and GMS Racing teammate Kaz Grala last weekend.

 Sauter, driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet, was thrilled to get his first win at Dover and of this season. “I can’t say enough about the way this season has started and the work that Joe, the No. 21 team and everyone at GMS have put in,” said Sauter, referring to crew chief Joe Shear Jr. “The last four races I’ve sat here and talked about how good things have been and how I felt a win was coming, but when it actually happens there is a bit of weight taken off our shoulders.”

The win also was Sauter’s fifth consecutive top-three finish. Sauter is having another championship-worthy season, leading the standings by 52 points over Christopher Bell. Sauter has the most stage wins this season (three) and Truck Series playoff points (eight) of any driver so far. Sauter has yet to finish outside the top-15 this season, has led 169 laps and owns an average finish of 4.2.

At TMS, Sauter boasts the most wins among active drivers, with three, heading into Friday night’s winstaronlinegaming.com 400.

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Two-time NCWTS champion Matt Crafton and 2017 playoff hopeful Ryan Truex both won their first race stages of this season at Dover International Speedway.

Truex won Stage 1 in the Bar Harbor 200 _ leading every lap in the stage after starting second. He ultimately finished 10th. The performance moved him from ninth to sixth in the standings. Truex is driving the No. 16 Toyota Tundra at TMS.

Crafton won Stage 2 at Dover and finished 11th in the race. Crafton has been a steady third in the standings and has yet to finish outside the top-16 this season through six races. Crafton is wheeling the No. 88 Toyota in Fort Worth. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 8 2017
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