John Hunter Nemechek put on a clinic at Kansas in the Xfinity Series. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 154 laps of the Kansas Lottery 300 and sweeping both stages en route to his sixth victory in the regular season.
With Kansas setting the Playoff field, the win puts Nemechek on top of the leaderboard with a ten-point advantage over second-place Austin Hill and a massive 43-point gap to the cutline.
In addition, it comes in the same week that Nemechek announced his plans to move up to the Cup Series next season to race for Legacy Motor Club in the No. 42, getting Cup Series redemption and continuing his development path with Toyota.
“I don’t know if it makes us the favorite or not, but super proud of this whole 20 team for Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s been a week, it’s been an exciting week.”
Nemechek was able to dedicate his win to a worthy cause, too. In an effort to raise awareness for those battling cancer, Xfinity and Cup Series drivers are featuring names of cancer fighters above the door where the driver’s name would normally be.
“We have another name, someone who we lost to cancer – Tom Goddard, on our car this weekend. A special name for those that know,” he explained.
Despite losing out on the Regular Season Championship and the 15 Playoff point bonus, it was a good points day for Nemechek as he finished second in the regular season and earned 10 extra Playoff points. In addition, he earned Toyota its 200th Xfinity Series win.
“Overall, just super pumped, super ecstatic,” Nemechek added. “Just looking forward to getting the Playoffs started at Bristol. We came in here trying to get the Regular Season Championship, and I said that we were going to have a 60-point day this weekend, and that’s what we did.
“We controlled what we could control, and we did everything that we possibly could. So let’s go to the Playoffs, I’m ready,” he concluded.
Brandon Jones finished second, with Sheldon Creed, Parker Kligerman, and Austin Hill rounding out the top five.
Hill ended up securing the Regular Season Championship over Nemechek after leading it throughout the year with his fifth-place finish.
“We just struggled all day with our balance,” Hill explained. “But, you know, we persevered, we dug deep – not even sure how we finished in the top five there.”
“So was really fighting the balance on this 21 car today. But us getting the Regular Season Championship just shows that no matter how tough the battle is and how tough the uphill climb is, we never give up, we keep fighting,” he said. “My guys did an awesome job on pit road of gaining me spots and that helped in our situation and we just had to go out there and establish what we could.”
“But going into the Playoffs, we have a lot of work to do to catch up to that 20,” Hill admitted. “He was class of the field today, so we’ve just got to be better come Bristol time.”
Hill has three races in the opening Round of 12 in the Playoffs to find his footing: Bristol Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
Parker Kligerman ended up transferring into the Playoffs after beating out Riley Herbst. It took a bit of contact between the pair to do so early in the race, but a fourth-place result for Kligerman proved he had the speed to make the Playoffs after several years’ hiatus.
“That’s a very satisfying feeling,” Kligerman said. “I’m really proud of this whole Big Machine Racing team. We executed at a high level, and that’s what I’ve seen us do the for the last twelve weeks. I felt like if we could just get in the Playoffs and bring this going forward, we could go race for a championship. What an honor to get the first Playoff berth for this race team.”
“We had a special person on board – Beth Cunningham,” he added of his cancer fighter. “The Cunninghams mean a lot to me and she’s battling cancer, but obviously having a Cunningham on board our racecar on a big day – I know they were watching over me, the Cunningham family.”
“Overall just a really solid day,” Kligerman concluded. “We executed a high level. If we do that the next, what, eight weeks, we’ve got chances.”
As for Riley Herbst, on a restart on lap 65 of 200, Parker Kligerman didn’t get going after missing a gear from the third row on the outside. Two rows behind was Herbst, his closest Playoff rival. Herbst ended up getting into the rear of the much-slower Kligerman before he could check up, causing severe damage to the right front of Herbst and giving him a flat tire that forced him down pit road and down two laps.
Herbst was able to get back on the lead lap when the caution came back out just after the restart of Stage 3 when Sammy Smith spun Justin Allgaier after getting hit by Sheldon Creed, collecting Brandon Jones.
Jones came into Kansas fourteenth in points and was the strongest-must win car early in the race. Still, before getting caught in the wreck halfway through, he spun by himself to bring out a caution with 15 laps to go in Stage 2. He did manage to recover to second, nearly getting himself in position to get that critical win even despite all the adversity, but ended up coming up just short.
“I was definitely the biggest John Hunter fan on that last run there,” Kligerman said with a laugh. “I was seeing the 9 be fast on that last run.”
Herbst was forced back on pit road as the race continued with another tire going down from the damage, putting him back two laps down. That’s how he finished, in 23rd position. Kligerman’s clean and consistent race enough for him to make the Playoffs by a big margin after coming into Kansas with a one-point deficit to the Playoff cutline.
“I honestly feel like we had one of the fastest cars out here today, and I feel like we were just one of the fastest twelve cars all year,” Herbst said. “We just weren’t good enough today… I feel like we were good enough, that’s what’s frustrating, I just don’t think we executed.”
“On that restart,” he addressed, “I don’t really know what happened. They all got stacked up. I don’t know if somebody missed a gear. Spun the tires too but at that point our day was down in a big hole.”
“I feel like we can go down and try to win races,” he concluded. “That was my ultimate goal this year.”
Herbst is yet to pick up his first-ever Xfinity Series victory, but he has the length of the postseason to prove a spoiler to the Playoff drivers.
The race featured ten cautions, eight of which were for cause, most of which involved contact that led to spins.
Cole Custer’s day was ended when he hit a tire carcass that sent him into the wall. NASCAR threw the caution for the debris just before Riley Herbst’s Stewart-Haas teammate ran over it at speed, which was actually after the leaders passed the carcass, drawing criticism from Custer.
The Xfinity Series returns for the Food City 300, the opening race of the NASCAR Playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway, on the evening of Friday, September 15th.
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