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Nemechek Getting His Victory Fix

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 29 2021

John Hunter Nemechek streaked to the Truck Series win in Charlotte on Friday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – When John Hunter Nemechek decided to return to NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series for the 2021 season with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he made it clear his only reason was so he could once again enjoy victory lane.

Driving in NASCAR’s Cup Series was prestigious, but it didn’t satisfy the 23-year-old Nemechek’s hunger for wins. This year with KBM, the North Carolina native has fed that hunger with a campaign that has become known as #Here4Wins. Friday night in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200, Nemechek satisfied his appetite for the third time this season, holding off Carson Hocevar to claim a 0.419-second victory.

“We came in (to the season) with the mindset and goal to win every single week,” said Nemechek, who tagged the wall during practice and had to have his truck repaired. “I don’t have a number in my head (of wins I want to obtain).”

Yet, Nemechek and team owner Busch have always been on the same page since they began conversing last year.

“I was bumming rides with him kinda throughout the year (2020) flying to the Cup deal,” Nemechek said. “We had a lot of deep, heart-to-heart conversations … about life and racing. It created a relationship between Kyle and I. 

“Kyle kept saying he wanted a veteran driver; Matt Crafton-like guy. So I guess that was me at 23 years old, which is kinda crazy, but it’s pretty cool to hear that from Kyle.”  

Nemechek’s third victory this season and the ninth of his career provided KBM with its sixth win this year in 10 races. Four of those victories have occurred on 1.5-mile tracks with Nemechek and Busch recording two each. Nemechek’s Charlotte victory was the 40th for crew chief Eric Phillips and provided the team with a $50,000 bonus from the Triple Truck Challenge. Earlier this month, Sheldon Creed claimed the first leg of the bonus at Darlington while Todd Gilliland took the second last weekend at Circuit of the Americas. 

In Friday’s race, Creed won Stage 1, but was eliminated five laps before the end of Stage 2 when he and Gilliland tangled. Zane Smith claimed the second Stage, but was assessed a pit road penalty during the stage break that cost him valuable track position for the final 74 laps in the 134-lap event. With two of Nemechek’s primary competitors out of the picture, he wasted little time in grabbing the lead on a daring move with 65 laps remaining. With Stewart Friesen and Hocevar battling for the lead, Nemechek shot from the top of the track to the bottom and made it three wide as they sped towards turn three. By the time they reached the third turn, Nemechek had grabbed the lead. 

By the time Nemechek made his final pit stop with 32 laps remaining, he had stretched his lead over Hocevar to more than three seconds. With the conclusion of green-flag stops, Nemechek had just recycled back into the lead when a vicious crash involving Trey Hutchens, Johnny Sauter and Drew Dollar occurred on the frontstretch. Sauter and Dollar never saw the disabled Hutchens’ truck and plowed into it, ripping off one side of Sauter’s truck amid a shower of sparks. A piece of debris hit Nemechek’s truck, knocking off the camera and “creating a pretty big hole in the roof”, while the then second-place Austin Hill ran over debris that was strewn across the track. Sauter declined comment after being checked and released from the infield care center. The other two drivers also escaped injury. 

“That wreck was nuts! I honestly didn’t see the truck up against the outside wall,” Nemechek said. “I don’t know with it being a dark-colored truck and kinda in a blind spot … all of a sudden I knew I was running down the guys in front of me and it was pretty much like a fireball, stuff flying everywhere. I kinda just shot for the middle, kinda ‘Days of Thunder’ moment I guess, and just hoped for the best. I didn’t know where trucks were going. You couldn’t really see at that point there was so much debris flying.  

“I didn’t see (the tire hit my truck). I think I was more or less looking at the 13 (Sauter) to figure out where he was going to go. He was sliding, I saw door bars and then we were out of it.

“I think Kyle Larson said it best, ‘Being a race car driver is not safe. You don’t know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen. You just go out there and drive.’ We love going fast and we love the adrenalin.”       

  Nemechek takes a 44-point lead over Ben Rhodes, who finished third Friday night, into the June 12 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 29 2021
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