Saturday’s motors: Nemechek celebrates first Xfinity win
Kansas City, Kan. — John Hunter Nemechek’s father first brought him to victory lane at Kansas Speedway almost 15 years ago, when “Front Row” Joe Nemechek swept the weekend Xfinity and Cup series races.
His boy drove himself there Saturday.
The younger Nemechek overcame a couple late mistakes then drove away from title contender Daniel Hemric late in the race to earn his first Xfinity Series win. Hemric finished second while the rest of the playoff field got a major shakeup following a crash on the opening lap.
“It means a lot, especially at Kansas. I forget how old I was when my dad swept the weekend, so it was pretty special,” Nemechek said. “The first one is the hardest to get so hopefully we can go on.”
The green flag had just dropped on the first race in the third round of the playoffs when Justin Allgaier got into Christopher Bell, who then backed into the wall. Those two playoff drivers collected six more cars, including fellow contenders Austin Cindric and Cole Custer.
Allgaier, Bell and Cindric were knocked out of the race. Custer lost his power steering and had to make a series of pit stops, putting him 18 laps down and well out of contention.
“Pretty big hit, bigger than I’ve experienced,” said Cindric, who plowed into Bell’s car riding along the wall. “Thankful it’s the playoffs and we still have a shot. We thought we’d have a shot today but we’ll just get ready and move on to Texas.”
Allgaier took the blame for the crash, saying “that was one me.”
“I hate it for those other guys,” he said. “Hopefully we can go to Texas and make up for it.”
Hemric started on the pole and all that carnage happened right behind him. He wound up winning the first stage and leading 128 laps as he chased his first career Xfinity win, but he was finally passed by Nemechek with about 30 laps to go and never could give chase.
It wasn’t a perfect finish for Nemechek, though. First he rolled through his pit box on a late stop, then he needed an extra stop when his team failed to tighten all of his lugnuts.
And when he parked his car on the front stretch to celebrate, he was halfway out the window when it started rolling backward down the banking — he was fortunate to leap off without getting hurt.
Elliott Sadler improved his playoff chances in the opening race of the third round by finishing third. He was followed by Shane Lee and fellow contenders Tyler Reddick and Matt Tifft, who all took advantage of the early wreck to give a boost to their hopes of making the finale at Homestead.
“This is one of my favorite race tracks to go to, especially after the good run I had last year,” said Bell, who led the standings coming into the weekend. “This is the race I was looking forward to. I felt like we were going to be able to contend for the win. It’s not the first time I’ve wrecked on the first lap, but we still have a lot of tracks to make up for it.”
Hemric jumped to the top of the playoff standings with 23 points, while Sadler moved into second with 14 and Reddick — who had minor damage in the early wreck — rallied to third with 11 points.
Bell is still above the cut line but only by a point over Tifft, while Allgaier is five points adrift and Custer (23 back) and Cindric (43 behind) have their work cut out for them.
“This was a wild race, which you’ve seen in the Xfinity Series the last few years,” said Sadler, who is retiring after this season. “Everything happened so quick, so fast, so we just kind of adjusted what we were trying to do. It was a really good weekend for our team.”
Lewis Hamilton secured the pole position for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, where the Mercedes driver could clinch a fifth career Formula One championship.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel must beat Hamilton or stay close to him Sunday if he hopes to push the championship to next week in Mexico City. Vettel was second-quickest on the day. But he’ll start fifth because of a three-spot grid penalty for driving too fast under a red flag during a Friday practice.
Hamilton leads Vettel by 67 points in the championship with four races to go. A fifth career title would tie the British driver with Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio for the second-most championships in Formula One history.
Hamilton has won the U.S. Grand Prix five of the last six years and the last four in a row.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will start second and Mercedes’ Vallteri Bottas will start third.