Story By Terrill Covey
Photo By: Matthew Wiernasz
LOUDON, N.H. – John Hunter Nemechek ran away and hid in Saturday’s Xfinity series AmBetter 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which was probably a good idea considering everything that happened behind him.
Nemechek picked up his fourth win of the season, and second in a row, while extending his Xfinity Series regular-season point lead over Austin Hill in the process.
“I expect to win with the best car,” Nemechek said. “It feels really good. Our Toyota GR Supra was really good all weekend. We struggled a little bit in practice, but made the right adjustments overnight and yesterday for qualifying. I think I led three-quarters of the race, so it was a pretty dominating performance by the whole 20 team.”
Nemechek said he felt like his team had the best car all day, and it was simply a matter of making sure he didn’t make any mistakes. With a flurry of cautions marring the race behind him, he had plenty of opportunities to make a mistake, but he never did.
“Winning just gets better and better every time you do it,” he said. “I don’t feel like we’re peaking. I wouldn’t say that. I think we have gelled since day one. We’ve been really fast every single week. I feel like this is the first weekend – or one of the first weekends – where we’ve had no issues, no mistakes and not had anything we need to overcome. And I think that showed.”
Through the rest of the field issues and mistakes were the rule of the day. Justin Allgaier, who appeared to be the only driver who had a shot at Nemechek, slid through his pit stall after winning stage 1, and although his team got the car rolled backward, his rear tire changer had begun working on the far and as a result he was penalized to the rear of the field. Not long after that Allgaier was caught up in an accordion style crash which left his car damaged. Although he recovered to earn a sixth place finish, that effectively ended Allgaier’s chance at a win. Allgaier’s frustration was evident post-race.
“Really aggravated at how the race ended,” Allgaier said. “The calls on some of the timing lines and things like that. You work your guts out all day to get back up there just to have it all taken away. Yea, there’s a lot of promise from the rebound, but just aggravated. We had a solid top five car, drove back into the top five for nothing. Just really disappointing.”
One driver who wasn’t disappointed was Austin Hill, who languished around the back half of the top 10 for most of the day, but when his teammate Sheldon Creed and Cole Custer got together during the race’s second overtime attempt, Hill was able to navigate the chaos and weave his way to a third place finish.
“I really didn’t have a great Bennett Chevrolet, so for us to come up with a third place finish – I know a lot of guys got wrecked out there and it was kind of a game of attrition there at the end,” Hill said. “We lost some points to the 20, but at the end of the day we had a decent day and we’re just going to keep fighting.”
While Hill felt like he got a better finish than expected due to the late race chaos, he said he still needs to find ways to finish ahead of Nemechek looking ahead to the rest of the regular season.
“Obviously we didn’t need the 20 to win, but big picture racing, we didn’t lose a ton on him. But we’re still in the fight for the playoffs and we’re still in the fight for the regular season championship, and that’s kind of our biggest picture right now that we’re looking forward to is trying to get those 15 extra bonus points.”
Chandler Smith claimed the runner up spot, but was quickly rushed off to the Infield Care Center after the race due to heat exhaustion. Daniel Hamric salvaged a fourth-place finish by keeping his nose clean during the rough and tumble event, and Sammy Smith rounded out the top 5.
“It was a solid day, coming from the back twice,” said Sammy Smith, who had to start at the rear due to an oil leak on his car that the team found after qualifying. “Good day overall. I thought we had a shot there, but just kind of fell off and it didn’t work out.”
For Nemechek there were several chances to see the race slip away on a barrage of late race restarts, but he met every challenge and came away with a big win at a big time in the season.
“I knew we had a good Toyota GR Supra, but when it comes to restarts, you never know,” Nemechek said. “When you have a car like we did today and you have those late restarts, it’s like, ‘Man, what’s gonna go wrong that’s going to take me out of this?’ From a driver’s perspective, it’s about not overextending the car and trying to get too much out of it. Just let the car do the work.”
The win allowed him to open his lead for the regular season championship, a goal that Nemechek said he sees as the first step toward winning the Xfinity championship.
“I’m trying to go win the regular season championship and trying to win the championship at the end of the year, come Phoenix,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to do that.”