Race Weekend Central

John Hunter Nemechek Survives, Advances to Chase With Atlanta Win

John Hunter Nemechek’s truck was among the plainest of liveries at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With no sponsors on the hood of his No. 8 Chevrolet, the son of Joe Nemechek’s machine was merely black and white.

Thankfully, those colors matched perfectly with victory lane.

Nemechek maneuvered his way through two vicious wrecks by leaders and bested John Wes Townley on a late-race restart to win the Great Clips 200, his second-career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory.

Nemechek’s victory came at the expense of Toyota Racing, whose drivers dominated much of the day.

Led to the green by Matt Crafton, Saturday’s 200-mile event quickly turned into a tale of tires, caution clocks and, ultimately, Toyota turmoil.

2015 MudSummer Classic winner Christopher Bell stole the lead from craft in the early going, shooting into the lead in his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Bell would continue to lead for much of the following stint, until a flat-right tire sent the rookie to pit road.

Bell would return to the track one lap down, sitting in 30th.

With Bell gone, Crafton took over the middle section of the race. The two-time champion fended off challenges from Spencer Gallagher and others on restarts and proceeded to drive off into the sunset for the majority of the event.

Meanwhile, in the back, two of KBM’s drivers saw their races go in different directions.

Taking advantage of the series’ first ‘Caution Clock’ yellow and cautions for flat tires of other competitors, Bell began climbing his way through the field. In the mean time, his two KBM teammates were both picking off one competitor at a time and moving up in the top 10.

William Byron was working his way toward the top five when his No. 9 Toyota was suddenly engulfed in white smoke. With his engine blown, Byron’s first 1.5-mile race had come to an early end.

Bell, on the other hand, kept climbing. First he worked his way back into the top 10. A few laps later, his JBL Audio Toyota was back in the top five, then before fans had time to process what was happening, Bell powered his way around Crafton to regain the lead.

Bell would lead the field up until the 20-minute clock forced another yellow with 24 laps remaining. There, a rookie mistake – sliding through the pit box – forced Bell to fifth as Crafton and Nemechek claimed the top-two spots. Bell’s third KBM teammate, Daniel Suarez, would take the following restart in third.

When the green-flag flew, Nemechek appeared to spin his tires. Taking advantage of the opening, Suarez jumped outside of Crafton for the lead. The two drag-raced through Turns 1 & 2, with Bell closing in behind them. The trio were coming off of Turn 2 when another rookie mistake from Bell changed the complexion of the race.

Running just behind Crafton, Bell lost the nose of his No. 4. He drifted up the track, hooking Suarez’s left rear and sending the second-year driver into Crafton’s right rear.

The two drivers would suffer vicious hits into the backstretch wall, Crafton tested the new SAFER barrier on the outside wall, and Suarez taking a head-on hit into the inside wall.

Thankfully, both drivers were OK.

As fate would have it, accidentally taking out his closest competitors appeared to be Bell’s ticket to an easy victory. Restarting fourth, Bell quickly worked his way around Nemechek with an expert move off of Turn 4 and began stretching his lead.

The World of Outlaws star appeared to be cruising to his second-career victory when sudden sparks shot out from under his machine in Turn 4. Bell would lose control of his machine, sliding up into the wall.

Much like at the beginning of the race, a flat tire had impacted Bell’s race. This time, his day was over.

With Toyota’s top drivers out, Nemechek found himself in the lead for the race’s final restart. The 19-year-old would lead until the finish.

Cameron Hayley took advantage of his position on the inside line and followed Nemechek to finish second, with Timothy Peters and Daniel Hemric coming home in third and fourth.

Grant Enfinger got the best of a three-wide battle with Ben Rhodes and John Wes Townley to claim the fifth position, his first-career top five in the series. Rhodes ended the day sixth, with Townley dropping from second to seventh on the final run.

Parker Kligerman, Caleb Holman and Spencer Gallagher rounded out the top 10.

With his win in Saturday’s race, Nemechek joins Johnny Sauter as the first drivers to claim Chase eligibility with a victory during the regular season. Sauter finished 28th after suffering from mechanical issues, but the GMS Racing driver still holds a position in the Chase at this time courtesy of his victory at Daytona International Speedway.

The NCWTS field will have a long time to process their wild day in Atlanta. The series will take more than a month off, returning on April 2 for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway.

About the author

A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

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