NASCAR: Nemechek overcomes penalty for second Xfinity Series victory
John Hunter Nemechek overcame a late race pit penalty to rally through the field and take his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday in the Andy’s Frozen Custard 335 at Texas Motor Speedway – the first of three Playoff events that will set the Championship Four field for the season finale.
Nemechek, whose full-time job is contending for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, is the third different driver to win an Xfinity Series race in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota joining Kyle Busch and Ty Gibbs – the trio combining for nine wins in 2021 in assorted part-time starts.
Nemechek’s victory by 0.956-seconds over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Hemric marked the third win in four series Playoff races by a non-Playoff driver this season. It was the second Xfinity Series win in the 24-year-old Nemechek’s career – the other coming at Kansas Speedway in 2018.
A penalty during a pit stop – a crewman coming over the wall too soon – took Nemechek from the lead to 18th position for a restart with 51 laps remaining. Far from crushing his hopes, it motivated Nemechek and his team.
During a pit stop on the 10th and final caution period with 28 laps remaining, Nemechek’s team called for a two-tire change while the rest of the contenders took four tires. The strategy put him on the front row for the re-start, and he navigated his way forward and re-took the lead for good with 20 laps remaining.
“[Spotter] Stevie Reeves and [crew chief] Chris Gayle kept me calm,” said Nemechek, who led a race best 92 laps on the afternoon. “I’ve grown a lot as a driver and been put in positions like that in the truck series as well.
“Man, I can’t say enough about this whole team. The 54 has been fast every single week. My goal coming in was to win. I had to win to prove to myself I can do this.”
It marked the third runner-up finish for Hemric this season and the 10th of his Xfinity Series career as he races for his first career victory. He was the top Playoff driver on Saturday.
“They just made a really good call to take two [tires] there, obviously,” an understandably subdued Hemric said of Nemechek, adding, “Congratulations to those guys. We just weren’t quite good enough [to catch him].”
Those two Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were pretty much the story of the day. NASCAR Xfinity Series championship leader A.J. Allmendinger led the opening 13 laps and then his chief challenger, defending series champion Austin Cindric, took the lead, earning his 10th stage victory.
The JGR Toyotas pushed forward and started racking up the laps led. Nemechek won Stage 2 and primarily exchanged the lead with Hemric for the remainder of the race. The exception was a bold pit move – defending Texas winner Harrison Burton (also a JGR driver) opted not to pit on the last caution and led six laps before Nemechek overtook him and held the lead until the checkered flag.
JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson finished third rallying from damage early in the race, followed by his teammate Justin Allgaier and Cindric.
Allmendinger was sixth, followed by Justin Haley, Burton, Michael Annett and Brandon Jones. All eight of the Playoff drivers were among the top 10 with Nemechek and Annett the exceptions.
The sixth-place finish for Allmendinger was good enough to keep him atop the championship standings by four points over Cindric. Allgaier is third, 26 points back and Gragson is fourth.
Despite his runner-up effort, Hemric is fifth, two points behind Gragson. Hailey is sixth (-6), Burton (-21) and Jones (-32) round out the Playoff standings.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series moves to the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway for the second race of this Playoff round next Saturday afternoon, the Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Current NASCAR Cup Series rookie Chase Briscoe is the defending race winner. However, Jones is a two-time Kansas winner, taking back-to-back wins in Fall, 2019, and Spring, 2020. By Holly Cain/NASCAR Wire Service
JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK, No. 54 Romco Equipment Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
How did you stay calm when you had to go to the back?
“Stevie Reeves (spotter) and Chris Gayle (crew chief) kept me calm. I think this year I’ve grown a lot as a driver and got put in position in the Truck Series as well. I can’t say enough about this whole team. The 54 has been fast every single week. 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. Huge shoutout to Romco Equipment Company. Thank you to all the fans that are here. It’s an amazing accomplishment to get this done – beating a teammate as well. We’re racing for an owners championship. I’m back in the 54 in Phoenix, so double championships for us when we go.”
You battled back and got the victory. How was the comeback from your seat?
“This thing was awesome. It was so fast all day. First, I have to give a shout out to Romco Equipment for everything they’ve done. The fans for being here. My wife and Aspen are back home, sad they didn’t make the trip today but overall so happy to get back to Victory Lane. It’s been a little bit in the Truck Series, and with us having an off week, I was glad to be able to win this thing. An amazing car. This thing hauled the mail. I can’t say enough about this group. I’m looking forward to Phoenix, and going to try to win two championships.”
What did you think when you heard that you had a penalty?
“I was a little frustrated. Chris (Gayle, crew chief) 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. Just an amazing accomplishment by this team. We had to stay calm. We had to do what we needed to do. We knew what we were here for. We had a fast Toyota Supra. I can’t thank the guys enough and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing for this opportunity.”
How does it feel to join your dad (Joe Nemechek) as Texas Motor Speedway winners?
“It feels amazing. It feels really cool to be able to be here in Victory Lane. I won the Truck race earlier this year here, and then won the Xfinity Series race here, so I’m two for two here. Just an amazing accomplishment.”
DANIEL HEMRIC, No. 18 Craftsman Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 2nd
I know what you didn’t need which was the late race caution, but what more did you need out of this race car to chase your teammate down?
“They just made a really good call there to take two tires. Obviously clean air was so big. When we had clean air with our Craftsman Supra there at one point, it was really good. We were on the tighter side all day even early when the 54 was better than us, he was just a little free. I just couldn’t quite carry the same mid corner exit speed. Dave Rogers (crew chief) made good adjustments all day to get it better and once we got that clean air, we were pretty well checked out. The caution came out and they just made a good call there to take two. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. 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. Really fast JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Supra, just not quite good enough.
On the plus side, you were fast. You went up there and led 54 laps. We go to another mile-and-a-half track next week at Kansas, so how much confidence can you take from this race as you move forward?
“Same as we have all the Playoffs. Keep bringing the same bullets. 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 be a part of the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Thankful to know that I can leave it all on the line these next three races for Joe Gibbs Racing and that’s what we’re going to do.”
- (10) John Hunter Nemechek(i), Toyota, 200.
- (3) Daniel Hemric (P), Toyota, 200.
- (5) Noah Gragson (P), Chevrolet, 200.
- (6) Justin Allgaier (P), Chevrolet, 200.
- (2) Austin Cindric (P), Ford, 200.
- (1) AJ Allmendinger (P), Chevrolet, 200.
- (4) Justin Haley (P), Chevrolet, 200.
- (8) Harrison Burton (P), Toyota, 200.
- (9) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 200.
- (7) Brandon Jones (P), Toyota, 200.
- (13) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 200.
- (20) Riley Herbst, Ford, 200.
- (11) Sam Mayer #, Chevrolet, 200.
- (22) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 200.
- (32) Kaz Grala(i), Chevrolet, 200.
- (26) Brett Moffitt, Chevrolet, 200.
- (39) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 200.
- (24) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 200.
- (15) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 200.
- (21) Austin Hill(i), Toyota, 199.
- (12) Myatt Snider, Chevrolet, 199.
- (30) Ryan Vargas #, Chevrolet, 199.
- (23) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 199.
- (16) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 199.
- (25) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 199.
- (38) Joe Graf Jr., Chevrolet, 198.
- (35) Mason Massey, Toyota, 196.
- (28) Spencer Boyd(i), Chevrolet, 196.
- (14) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 196.
- (37) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 195.
- (34) Jesse Little, Chevrolet, 195.
- (31) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 193.
- (18) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, Accident, 171.
- (36) David Starr, Toyota, Engine, 152.
- (40) CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, Suspension, 145.
- (19) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Electrical, 108.
- (27) Tanner Berryhill, Chevrolet, Accident, 100.
- (29) Dylan Lupton, Toyota, Accident, 100.
- (17) Jade Buford #, Chevrolet, Accident, 81.
- (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