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Nemechek Collects Xfinity Win

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 17 2021

John Hunter Nemechek cooked up some donuts after winning at Texas on Saturday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas – John Hunter Nemechek capped an already excellent week in his evolving NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career Saturday afternoon with a determined Xfinity Series drive to victory at Texas Motor Speedway.

At his current rate, John Hunter might run out of things to prove to himself before his 25th birthday in June.

The Truck Series championship leader, Nemechek assumed the role of Xfinity Series spoiler by winning the 17th annual Andy’s Frozen Custard 335. Nemechek schooled the field in the opener of the Round of 8 Playoffs, overcoming a pit road penalty that dropped him from first to 18th with 51 laps remaining in the 200-lapper.

A flawless, two-tire pit stop during the day’s 10th and final caution period on Lap 173 allowed Nemechek to move from sixth to second on the grid behind Playoff contender Harrison Burton. After passing Burton on Lap 181, Nemechek checked-out to a margin of victory of 1.316-seconds over Playoff contender and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Hemric.

“I think this year I’ve grown a lot as a driver,” Nemechek said after exiting the No. 54 Romco Equipment Toyota Supra most closely associated with mentor Kyle Busch. “I can’t say enough about this whole team. My goal coming in was to win. I had to win to prove to myself that I can do this. It’s just like taking that step back to the Truck Series. I wanted to get back to Victory Lane.”

That was the reason Nemechek opted to vacate his Cup Series ride in the No. 38 Ford Mustang fielded by Front Row Motorsports at the end of the 2020 season. John Hunter struggled through a Cup schedule that saw him post just three top-10 finishes. That grind prompted the second generation driver to exit FRM and return to the Truck Series with team-owner Busch, a two-time Cup champion. That seamless transition has been highlighted by five victories and a bona fide shot at the NCWTS championship.

On Thursday, KBM confirmed that Nemechek will return to the team and the Truck Series in 2022. In addition, crew chief Eric Phillips will continue to work with Nemechek on KBM’s No. 4 Toyota Tundra.

“It’s definitely been a good week, being able to announce I was coming back to Kyle Busch Motorsports for another year,” Nemechek said during his post-race presser. “It’s been an amazing year on the Truck side fighting for a championship and race wins each and every weekend. I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying my opportunities.

“I left the Cup Series to come back to the Truck Series to try and win races. We had some of these races on our radar for the Xfinity Series in JGR equipment early-on and were able to put a deal together.

For me, I want to be in a winning, contending vehicle every single weekend. I don’t want to put myself in a position where we can’t win races and go back to running 20th or 25th. I’m having fun. I’m smiling. It’s been a great year. It’s been an amazing year personally and professionally and I hope to continue it.”

Nemechek is the third driver to win an Xfinity Series race in the No. 54 JGR Supra, joining “Rowdy” Busch and Ty Gibbs _ a trio combining for nine wins in assorted part-time 2021 starts. Nemechek’s victory also marked the third win in four series Playoff races by a non-Playoff driver this season.  It was John Hunter’s second Xfinity Series win, the first having been registered at Kansas Speedway in 2018.

Nemechek, 24, led a race-high 92 laps around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval in the first NASCAR event staged here since the Cup Series All-Star Race on June 13. Nemechek won the Truck Series race on June 12 as prelude to the All-Star festivities.

“It reminded me of my Truck win in the spring,” Nemechek said of Saturday’s effort. “Just able to run the bottom, able to run in the PJ1 and the resin this time, able to move around and fight through traffic. It’s been an amazing year being able to get in KBM equipment and now the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. I knew that the No. 54 was fast all year. For me, I knew that it could win. So I had to go out there and execute. Top, bottom, middle _ it didn’t matter. I was a man on a mission.”

Nemechek’s day almost went awry during a pit stop under the ninth caution on Lap 144, when a crewman was flagged for going over the wall too soon. Nemechek was dropped to the end of the lead line in 18th. Nemechek credited crew chief Chris Gayle and spotter Stevie Reeves for keeping him focused.

“I was a little frustrated,” Nemechek said. “Chris and I have a joke from earlier in the week that we go from zero-to-the-rev-chip pretty easy. I got him on the rev-chip earlier, and he was on the rev-chip there and I got put on the rev-chip a little bit. We had to stay calm. We had to do what we needed to do. We knew what we were here for.”

In addition, John Hunter added to the family racing history by joining his father, “Front Row Joe” Nemechek as a NASCAR winner at “The Great American Speedway.” The elder Nemechek competed in all three NASCAR touring series here, winning the Xfinity Series O’Reilly 300 on March 29, 2003. 

“It feels amazing,” said John Hunter, named in honor of his late uncle and NASCAR competitor. “It feels really cool to be able to be here in Victory Lane. I’m two-for-two here. Just an amazing accomplishment.”

Meanwhile, none of the Round of 8 contenders clinched a spot in the Championship 4 set for Phoenix Raceway next month. Led by Hemric, Round of 8 contenders finished second through eighth, and 10th.

A.J. Allmendinger retained his point lead with a sixth-place result in the No. 16 Andy’s Frozen Custard Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger has a four-point lead over Playoffs runnerup Austin Cindric, who finished fifth in the No. 22 Snap On Ford Mustang fielded by Team Penske.

Justin Allgaier, who finished fourth in the No. 7 Hellman’s Sam’s Club Camaro fielded by JR Motorsports, is third in the standings and 26 points behind Cindric. The fourth and final transfer spot is held by Noah Gragson, who finished third in the No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevy fielded by JR Motorsports. Gragson is two points behind Allgaier.

Despite his second-place race finish to Nemechek, Hemric and his No. 18 Craftsman Toyota Supra now are fifth in the standings _ two points behind Gragson heading to Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval next weekend. The Round of 8 will conclude at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway in two weeks.

Hemric credited Gayle’s call to take two Goodyear Eagle tires rather than four as pivotal for securing track position. “It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Hemric said. “Just too tight there and never got far enough into the run to where tires could make a difference. And with 20 laps to go, you aren’t going to make up the gap I needed to make up. Just too tight. I was whipping it for all I had, about pounded the fence three or four times trying to catch him. Great job to those guys. Congrats to those guys.”

Hemric said his team has no reason to change its approach to the Playoffs. “Keep bringing the same bullets,” Hemric said. “These guys are doing a hell of a job. Just got to keep working. I don’t know, that’s all you can do. Keep showing up, keep grinding it out. Thankful to know that I can leave it all on the line these next three races (including the finale at Phoenix Raceway) for Joe Gibbs Racing _ and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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A typical NASCAR alpha-male, Denny Hamlin is looking for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship to be decided between himself and Kyle Larson.

“Well, by the numbers it should be,” said Hamlin, who trails Larson by 35 points heading into Sunday’s 17th annual Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 Round of 8 Playoffs race here. “I actually talked to him (recently) and I felt like man, it’s hard to believe anybody else would win. We’ve been clearly the two best cars for the first 30-something races and I just hope we both make it to the Final Four. That would be fitting.”

The championship will be decided at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7. “You just hope your two most dominant cars, by a mile, make it in there so they can win that last race,” Hamlin said.

Larson, 29, has won a Cup Series-best seven races in his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Hamlin, 40, is a two-time winner this season in the No. 11 Craftsman Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I would say he’s consistently shown that he’s in one of the fastest cars each week, so because of that he’s a favorite,” Larson said of Hamlin. “I think Chase Elliott is probably the next guy. Honestly, you can look at everybody in the Playoffs right now and make a strong case of why they can win the championship. So, it’s hard to pick your main competition.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – 17th Annual Andy’s Frozen Custard 335

Texas Motor Speedway

Fort Worth, Texas

Saturday, October 16, 2021

  1. (10)  John Hunter Nemechek(i), Toyota, 200.
  2. (3)  Daniel Hemric (P), Toyota, 200.
  3. (5)  Noah Gragson (P), Chevrolet, 200.
  4. (6)  Justin Allgaier (P), Chevrolet, 200.
  5. (2)  Austin Cindric (P), Ford, 200.
  6. (1)  AJ Allmendinger (P), Chevrolet, 200.
  7. (4)  Justin Haley (P), Chevrolet, 200.
  8. (8)  Harrison Burton (P), Toyota, 200.
  9. (9)  Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 200.
  10. (7)  Brandon Jones (P), Toyota, 200.
  11. (13)  Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 200.
  12. (20)  Riley Herbst, Ford, 200.
  13. (11)  Sam Mayer #, Chevrolet, 200.
  14. (22)  Ryan Sieg, Ford, 200.
  15. (32)  Kaz Grala(i), Chevrolet, 200.
  16. (26)  Brett Moffitt, Chevrolet, 200.
  17. (39)  Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 200.
  18. (24)  Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 200.
  19. (15)  Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 200.
  20. (21)  Austin Hill(i), Toyota, 199.
  21. (12)  Myatt Snider, Chevrolet, 199.
  22. (30)  Ryan Vargas #, Chevrolet, 199.
  23. (23)  Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 199.
  24. (16)  Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 199.
  25. (25)  Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 199.
  26. (38)  Joe Graf Jr., Chevrolet, 198.
  27. (35)  Mason Massey, Toyota, 196.
  28. (28)  Spencer Boyd(i), Chevrolet, 196.
  29. (14)  Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 196.
  30. (37)  Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 195.
  31. (34)  Jesse Little, Chevrolet, 195.
  32. (31)  Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 193.
  33. (18)  Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, Accident, 171.
  34. (36)  David Starr, Toyota, Engine, 152.
  35. (40)  CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, Suspension, 145.
  36. (19)  Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Electrical, 108.
  37. (27)  Tanner Berryhill, Chevrolet, Accident, 100.
  38. (29)  Dylan Lupton, Toyota, Accident, 100.
  39. (17)  Jade Buford #, Chevrolet, Accident, 81.
  40. (33)  JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Engine, 37.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  115.533 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 35 Mins, 48 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.316 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  10 for 54 laps.

Lead Changes:  8 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Allmendinger (P) 1-13;A. Cindric (P) 14-47;D. Hemric (P) 48-71;J. Nemechek(i) 72;D. Hemric (P) 73;J. Nemechek(i) 74-144;D. Hemric (P) 145-174;H. Burton (P) 175-180;J. Nemechek(i) 181-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  John Hunter Nemechek(i) 3 times for 92 laps; Daniel Hemric (P) 3 times for 55 laps; Austin Cindric (P) 1 time for 34 laps; AJ Allmendinger (P) 1 time for 13 laps; Harrison Burton (P) 1 time for 6 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,9,16,7,1,11,20,51,02,68

Stage #2 Top Ten: 54,18,8,10,11,98,1,7,9,16

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 17 2021
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