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For the first 100 laps in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway on Friday (Sept. 9), it was the John Hunter Nemechek show. With the fastest truck on the track, he looked to have the win locked until Carson Hocevar and crew chief Phil Gould tried to spoil the party with a clever pit strategy.
With Hocevar out front on older tires and Nemechek on fresh rubber trying to run him down in the closing laps, Nemechek finally prevailed with a pass of Hocevar with three corners to go after cutting a 22-second deficit in 28 laps. The Kansas Lottery 200 win was Nemechek’s second win of the 2022 season and the 13th of his career, and it came after he led 88 of the 134 laps.
“It’s huge,” Nemechek told FOX Sports 1 after the race. “Just want to say thank you to Eric Phillips, Jimmy, Todd, Greg, Adam, our entire team, Garrett, just everyone at KBM. I can’t thank them enough for the truck they gave me tonight, the Toyota Tundra TRD pro was absolutely on rails. Qualified on the pole, led a ton of laps, won both stages and won the race.”
The win came in a timely fashion for Nemechek, as it was announced by Vince Welch during the race that Eric Phillips would not return as his crew chief for 2023.
Hocevar ran out of fuel on the backstretch on the final lap after getting passed by Nemechek, but he was able to bring the truck home for a second-place finish. Unfortunately for him, the pass for the win knocked him out of the playoffs as Christian Eckes beat Hocevar for the final spot by just three points.
“I don’t know [how to process it],” Hocevar told FOX Sports 1. “I don’t know how you’re supposed to handle these. As many times as I’ve come close, I should be used to this, but man, I’m going to be a bridesmaid at my own wedding.
“Seems like I always run second to [the No. 4 truck], but they were the class of the field all night. Yeah, just got beat. Had the winning strategy, just obviously didn’t work out.”
Hocevar and Matt Crafton were the two playoff drivers who failed to advance to the Round of 8. After the race, Crafton was honest about his season while looking forward to the remaining weeks on the schedule.
“[Defeat] is part of it,” Crafton told FOX Sports 1. “We’ve sucked all year, and to even get to the playoffs was a feat in itself.
“We have four or five more [races] to go and we can go out and not worry about points anymore and just go and worry about wins.”
Ryan Preece came home third, while Zane Smith finished fourth after running second to Nemechek for much of the night. Grant Enfinger charged back in the final stage to finish fifth, while Nemechek’s Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Chandler Smith and Corey Heim wound up sixth and seventh, respectively. Ty Majeski, Colby Howard and Eckes rounded out the top 10.
The night began with Nemechek and Majeski on the front row, and Nemechek got out to an early lead. It didn’t last long, however, as Majeski was right there to take the lead from Nemechek on lap 8. Majeski then had smooth sailing out front before Nemechek took the lead back once again on lap 21. From there, Nemechek cruised to victory in stage one.
Stage two began just as stage one ended, as Nemechek retained the lead on the restart and began building a sizeable gap between himself and the rest of the field. Preece and Zane Smith emerged as Nemechek’s greatest competition while Majeski quickly faded outside the top five. With five laps to go in stage two, Nemechek had a two-second lead before the stage ended under caution after a spin by Bayley Currey.
The final stage was stop-and-go at the beginning, as the third and fourth cautions came out after Kaden Honeycutt spun out on a restart and Brett Moffitt had a fiery engine failure on the frontstretch.
Nemechek continued to pace the field during these restarts. But it was under this caution when Gould employed the strategy that almost gave Hocevar the win.
With the No. 42 truck mired back in 15th place in a must-win situation, Gould rolled the dice and sent Hocevar to pit road with 55 laps to go for fuel and his final set of fresh tires. If the rest of the race ran without a caution, Hocevar would cycle out to a healthy lead as everyone else would have to make one more pit stop for fuel.
And that’s exactly what happened. Hocevar took the lead with 29 laps to go, and from then on it became a battle for Hocevar to keep Nemechek at bay. By the time everything had cycled out, Nemechek was over 22 seconds behind Hocevar with 28 laps remaining. Even with fresh tires, it would be a tall order for the dominant No. 4 truck to get back in front.
But Nemechek remained calm and started to close the gap. He was running laps between one- and 1.5 seconds faster than Hocevar, and with 10 laps remaining, Hocevar’s lead was down to just 6.5 seconds.
With around four laps to go, Nemechek started to lose ground. He was 2.5 seconds behind Hocevar, and there were half-a-dozen lapped trucks between himself and Hocevar. However, Nemechek got back to work, and with two laps to go, the only thing standing in the way of a win was the lapped truck of Crafton and Hocevar one second ahead of him.
Nemechek trimmed off a few tenths of the lead in first half of the penultimate lap, but after Hocevar had to check up in turn 3, Nemechek found himself right on Hocevar’s bumper as the pair took the white flag. Nemechek then sailed to the win in turn 1 while Hocevar limped the truck home after it sputtered on the backstretch.
— NASCAR Camping World Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) September 10, 2022
The Truck Series Round of 8 will kick off at Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday, Sept. 15 with the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 200-lap race will begin at 9 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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