Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Kyle Larson Takes Win From John Hunter Nemechek at Darlington

John Hunter Nemechek was in control late in the Shriners Children’s 200 on Saturday (May 13). He led the most laps during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race and controlled the final restart with seven laps to go.

Seven laps later, he was skidding across the start/finish line in fifth place after a collision with Kyle Larson sent him hard into the inside wall.

Nemechek was denied his third win of the season and Larson gave Kaulig Racing its third trophy with as many drivers [Larson, AJ Allmendinger at Circuit of the Americas and Chandler Smith at Richmond Raceway].

See also
Kyle Larson Edges John Hunter Nemechek in Wild Finish at Darlington

Larson started stage three in 30th place after a pit road speeding penalty. Within 10 laps he had driven up to 15th. By the time a caution waved with 23 to go, Larson was up to sixth, and the field was in trouble.

Larson’s next restart wasn’t a great one, and it looked like Nemechek’s race to lose. But another caution flew with 11 to go as brothers Ryan Sieg and Kyle Sieg both had separate incidents at the same time.

Nemechek elected to start on the inside, with Justin Allgaier on his outside. Austin Hill elected to take the outside row, giving Larson the spot directly behind Nemechek. It quickly turned into a two-man race.

With just four laps to go, Nemechek’s lead was a half-second, but it would only shrink from there. On the final lap, Larson pulled even with Nemechek coming out of turn two. The two drivers drag-raced down the backstretch.

Larson pulled ahead in turn 3, but Nemechek drew even inside of Larson in the final turn. Heading to the frontstretch, Larson ricocheted off the wall into Nemechek’s No. 20 Toyota. Larson was able to continue and bring home the win.

Allgaier finished second with Cole Custer finishing third. Hill finished fourth, narrowly edging Nemechek. Carson Hocevar, Josh Berry, Sam Mayer, Kaz Grala, and Corey Heim rounded out the top 10.

The Winners

Larson had come close to winning at Darlington several times and finally closed the deal in spectacular fashion. It’s safe to say no other driver could’ve won this race while starting the final stage from the rear of the field. The legend of Larson grows. He takes some great momentum into tomorrow’s NASCAR Cup Series race, the Goodyear 400.

Nemechek didn’t win the race, but he led the most laps and won a stage. Despite the fifth-place finish, he scored the most points on the day. Had the race been one lap shorter, he’d have ended the day in victory lane instead of the infield care center.

Hocevar put on a heck of a performance in his second career Xfinity start. The 20-year-old NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular used pit strategy to gain track position and maintained it. Driving for Spire Motorsports, Hocevar finished an impressive sixth in the team’s series debut.

See also
Spire Motorsports Earns Top 10 in Xfinity Debut with Carson Hocevar

Mayer’s eighth-place finish doesn’t tell the story of how well he ran. Sporting a throwback to an early 2000’s Kurt Busch car, he dominated stage one. A poor pit stop near the end of the first stage relegated him to fifth at its end. Prior to the bad pit stop, he led 35 laps — more than he had led all season. Mayer showed he is capable of running up front at a tough racetrack and collected the fifth-most points on the day.

The Losers

Riley Herbst continues to slide down the standings. Darlington is one of his favorite tracks, and he brought a great-looking Ken Block tribute car. But the Lady in Black can be cruel. An early Darlington stripe turned into a flat tire, which turned into a big impact with the wall. He completed just 29 laps and finished last (38th). After being as high as second in the points this spring, he is down to ninth.

Ryan Truex, Brandon Jones and Smith all registered DNFs after being involved in the big crash on lap 67. Truex’s momentum seems to be gone following the win at Dover Motor Speedway two weekends ago. Jones fell two places in the standings down to 14th. Smith lost a costly three spots tumbling to sixth.

Sheldon Creed was a trendy pick to win this race. Last fall, he was leading on the last lap before a wild finish involving Larson and Noah Gragson. One of the greatest finishes in recent memory, Creed was just barely denied a win and ultimately missed the playoffs.

In the Shriners Children’s 200, Creed ran inside the top 10 until he went three wide on lap 67 and set off a chain of events that damaged 15 cars in a Talladega-style melee. Creed was driving a nostalgic blue Kevin Harvick throwback scheme. He was able to continue wounded and finished 25th.

The older Sieg brother, Ryan, has had a tough season. He’s scored just two top 10s and sits 15th in the standings. Sieg ran inside the top 15 most of the day but suffered a mechanical failure with just 13 laps to go. He did score a few points in stage two but wound up 27th.

Scheme of the Week

This is the toughest week of the season to pick a favorite. There are so many great throwback schemes to choose from. It seems like half the schemes Harvick has ever run were represented. Most teams got in on the throwback action. Some are obvious, some are obscure. But only one scheme can be named the Xfinity Breakdown Scheme of the Week.

Simple yet beautiful. Crimson and Gold. Tim Richmond was a legend whose career was cut short. Brett Moffitt and AM Racing did a great job honoring him here. Look at that font too, it matches its inspiration perfectly. With copyrights and trademarks and teams being set in their ways, you don’t always see that. Moffitt collected one stage point and finished 20th.

Honorable mentions include Mayer’s Busch throwback, Jeremy Clements in the Geoff Bodine throwback, and Jeffrey Earnhardt in the Dale Earnhardt Sr. All-Star Race Wheaties Scheme.

See also
Eyes on Xfinity: 5 Best Darlington Throwbacks

Fuel For Thought

We are 11 races into the season and JR Motorsports has yet to win a race. By this time last season, it had already won four. So what’s going on at JRM? Has it lost its edge? How long will the winless streak continue? Could it be shut out the entire season? Ok, that last question may have been a little much. Allgaier has been a regular inside the top five. Mayer just led 35 laps this weekend.

What about Josh Berry? For a guy who is driving for Hendrick Motorsports on Sundays in a relief role, his Xfinity season hasn’t been great. He has led more than 50 laps exactly one time this season, at Richmond. He did just finish second at Dover, but he was the favorite to win that race.

Is Berry getting distracted by his relief efforts with HMS? Are the talks of him getting a good Cup Series ride next season taking away from his goal of winning an Xfinity Series championship for his mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Berry is still fourth in the point standings. But a guy who is rumored to be taking over for Harvick ought to be right up there with Nemechek for the points lead. Maybe he still will. We’re exactly one-third of the way through the season, with 11 races down, and 22 to go.

And oh yeah, Jones. He is doing Brandon Jones things. Maybe he’ll surprise everyone and be the guy to get the monkey off the back of JRM. Or maybe he’ll continue to underachieve, have bad luck, and run around 10th place. Is he the Michael Annett for this generation of JRM?

Where to Next?

The circuit takes another week off for NASCAR’s All-Star weekend at North Wilkesboro. After the break, a home race for most teams. We’re heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Alsco Uniforms 300. Berry won this race last season. Can he repeat and get JR Motorsports its first win of the year? It all gets started at 1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 along with the Performance Racing Network.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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Matty

Why can’t every NASCAR race be as great as this one? Really!

Matty

Josh Berry has as many top 5’s and top 10’s as he did at the same point last season. So why is the author picking on him?? We’re all supposed to support this improbable story, not tear him down! Pick on Hemric for instance!

kb

Where r the comments about the big bad CUP drivers stealing wins? This sure does look like a Bonafide steel to me! KL must be so proud. Did the wifey do a beer chug?

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