John Hunter Nemechek came into New Hampshire with the car to beat.
His Joe Gibbs Racing team has an excellent record at the 1.058-mile oval in the Xfinity Series, and Saturday’s Ambetter Health 200 proved the rule.
“They’ve had dominant JGR Supras the last couple years and I had to hold up my end of the bargain,” Nemechek joked.
But despite a strong lead for most of the 137 laps he led, Nemechek was still forced to fight on a Overtime restart to secure his fourth win of the season and second in a row, after winning at the Atlanta night race, and ended up winning by .424 seconds over Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith.
He acknowledged that the final restart was still a challenge despite his speed.
“It’s nerve-wracking for sure,” Nemechek said, “so I’m so proud of this No. 20 team and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. I think our first clean race of the year and hats off to all our guys.”
“I was a little worried there with the last restarts,” he added. “We kept getting really good launches and were able to clear them, but I didn’t know who was saving what.”
Ultimately, the win in such a dominant fashion gives Nemechek confidence as the Playoffs approach.
“Now it’s time to keep clicking off these victories,” he said.
Second-place Chandler Smith rounded out a strong weekend, having won the pole for the race. He showed incredible determination as his cool suit broke on a high-80-degree day, forcing him to get treated with an IV in the infield care center.
Austin Hill and Smith’s teammate Daniel Hemric both finished in the top five as well.
Nemechek’s teammate Sammy Smith showed promising speed throughout the race, including winning Stage 2, but wasn’t there at the end. He summed up the race as “a missed opportunity,” despite finishing fifth.
“We had an up-and-down day,” Smith put it. “We came from the back twice and worked our way back up there. Stage 2 kind of fell our way a little bit. We got some track position, just kind of fell off there compared to the 20. Good day overall.”
“Frustrating day, but a good day and glad we could capitalize on getting good stage points that we did. Just things to keep working on,” he added.
Sixth-place Justin Allgaier was strong early in the race, leading 27 laps and winning the first stage after taking the lead from Nemechek. Involvement in a restart wreck that impacted twelve cars in total hurt his performance for the rest of the day.
Jeb Burton, owner-driver Josh Williams, Brett Moffitt, and Mason Massey all earned a top-ten finish behind Allgaier.
Another driver with a strong run and lacking the finish to show for it is Cole Custer. He was a consistent threat in the top five throughout most of the race, and was running third during the Overtime restart before being taken out after contact with Sheldon Creed.
“I got a decent start there on the last restart, and I just got tight. Off of Turn Four, the No. 2 tried to clear himself on me, and I was still there. Got loose and then got into him. Ultimately, it wrecked both of us. It just didn’t work out right for either of us. It wasn’t the right move,” Custer admitted.
The race featured ten cautions, the largest of which was the twelve-car restart wreck. Drivers anticipating the leaders starting got on the gas and then checked up, causing a chain reaction throughout the field that damaged several cars terminally, including Playoff bubble driver Parker Kligerman.
Fellow bubble driver Riley Herbst also had trouble, though, turning himself into the outside wall after coming over the nose of Austin Dillon in the Kaulig Racing No. 10 car. However, he managed to finish and gain points on Kligerman. The gap is now 18 points.
“I wouldn’t say the results of this race were a positive, even with gaining points,” Herbst admitted.
“I don’t know what I was doing when I got into the No. 10 car there,” he added. “I thought there was some room there, and I just wasn’t clear. That really ruined our top-three day, and now we’ll finish 20th. It’s super frustrating. I apologize to Austin Dillon, the No. 10 team, and my guys for that incident.”
The Xfinity Series returns at Pocono on Saturday the 22nd for the Pocono 225.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Ambetter Health 200
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Saturday, July 15, 2023
1. (2) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 206.
2. (1) Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, 206.
3. (8) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 206.
4. (11) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 206.
5. (7) Sammy Smith #, Toyota, 206.
6. (4) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 206.
7. (20) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 206.
8. (22) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 206.
9. (12) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 206.
10. (33) Mason Massey, Ford, 206.
11. (5) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 206.
12. (21) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 206.
13. (38) Kaz Grala, Toyota, 206.
14. (28) Patrick Emerling, Chevrolet, 206.
15. (16) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 206.
16. (9) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 206.
17. (3) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 206.
18. (10) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 206.
19. (29) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 206.
20. (14) Riley Herbst, Ford, 206.
21. (17) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 205.
22. (6) Cole Custer, Ford, 205.
23. (26) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 205.
24. (24) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 204.
25. (32) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, 203.
26. (25) Connor Mosack, Toyota, 203.
27. (23) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 202.
28. (35) CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 201.
29. (19) Joe Graf Jr., Toyota, Accident, 196.
30. (31) Chris Hacker(i), Ford, 195.
31. (13) Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, Accident, 190.
32. (15) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, Accident, 70.
33. (37) Ryan Sieg, Ford, Accident, 70.
34. (18) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, Accident, 70.
35. (34) Chad Finchum, Ford, Suspension, 60.
36. (30) Stefan Parsons, Chevrolet, Suspension, 48.
37. (27) Rajah Caruth(i), Chevrolet, Oil Line, 47.
38. (36) Greg Van Alst, Chevrolet, Brakes, 17.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 82.417 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 38 Mins, 40 Secs. Margin of Victory: Under Caution Seconds.
Caution Flags: 10 for 60 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Smith # 1;J. Allgaier 2-8;J. Nemechek 9-26;J. Allgaier 27-46;C. Smith # 47-54;J. Nemechek 55-86;P. Retzlaff # 87-88;S. Smith # 89-106;J. Nemechek 107-150;C. Smith # 151;J. Graf Jr. 152-158;A. Dillon(i) 159-162;J. Graf Jr. 163;J. Nemechek 164-206.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): John Hunter Nemechek 4 times for 137 laps; Justin Allgaier 2 times for 27 laps; Sammy Smith # 1 time for 18 laps; Chandler Smith # 3 times for 10 laps; Joe Graf Jr. 2 times for 8 laps; Austin Dillon(i) 1 time for 4 laps; Parker Retzlaff # 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 7,20,00,16,8,9,10,1,11,21
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,31,2,9,92,7,19,20,10,16
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