Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: John Hunter Nemechek Sets Himself Apart at New Hampshire

In the words of Squirt from Finding Nemo, mixed with some New England flare. “That was totally wicked!”

John Hunter Nemechek dominated the Ambetter Health 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 15) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but the race was far from a shoo-in.

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John Hunter Nemechek Dominates New Hampshire, Scores 4th Xfinity Win of 2023

A typical, slick New Hampshire track became even more treacherous under the simmering New England sun, with the threat of rain increasing the intensity from the get-go.

Just like last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Nemechek not only captured the victory, but he initially didn’t have the car to beat. After taking the lead on lap 9, Nemechek’s short-run car made him look invincible. However, as the long run came in, that advantage slipped, with Justin Allgaier taking the lead on lap 29 and Cole Custer pressuring Nemechek for second. The stage ended under caution due to Chris Hacker’s spin, giving Allgaier the stage victory as Nemechek settled for second.

As soon as it looked like it was Allgaier’s race to lose, it quickly unraveled in stage two. During the stage break, Allgaier slid through his stall and had to back up to avoid a penalty. However, the right rear tire changer had already gone to work, causing Allgaier to start the second stage at the rear. Things only got worse.

A lap 71 restart saw the accordion effect wreak havoc on the field, igniting a pile-up that involved 14 cars, including Allgaier, significantly damaging his car.

After starting at the rear of the field, Sammy Smith captured the stage two victory with a variety of strategies throughout the field. That was nearly the last time a driver not named Nemechek led the field. The No. 20 regained the lead on the lap 108 restart, holding a tight grip for the remainder of the race.

Despite a caution during green flag pit stops and several restart opportunities, nobody topped the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, an emerging theme in a season where a dominant driver has not yet stepped up like in past years. However, that may be changing with Nemechek.

Chandler Smith, Austin Hill, Daniel Hemric and Sammy Smith rounded out the top five.

The Winners

Nemechek took advantage of Allgaier’s misfortunes while his own handling issues diminished over the course of the race. The 26-year-old led 137 of the 206 laps, capturing his series-high fourth win of the year. Nemechek has now earned four consecutive finishes of sixth or better, three of second or better and back-to-back victories. In 18 races this season, he has only finished outside the top 10 three times. Nemechek has to be the title favorite at this point.

Chandler Smith came one spot short of a pole-race sweep, winning his second consecutive pole and third of the season. Smith was a bit off the speed of guys like Nemechek, Allgaier, or Custer, but he kept his nose clean throughout most of the race. The Kaulig Racing driver had a couple of opportunities to best Nemechek on late restarts, but ultimately came up short with a runner-up performance. It’s his first top five since his first Xfinity win at Richmond Raceway in April.

Admittedly, short and flat tracks have been the weak point of Richard Childress Racing. And with the championship race taking place at Phoenix Raceway, that spells concern for title contender Hill. Hill struggled throughout most of the race, fighting to stay inside the top 10 and only scoring one stage point. However, as many drivers running at the front of the field encountered issues, Hill was able to slide through, earning a strong third-place finish. Despite the result, Hill lost ground on Nemechek for the regular season title, now trailing by 33 points.

While Smith kept his car inside the top 10, his Kaulig teammate Hemric had a much tougher battle. Hemric was one of the first cars to take a significant hit on the lap 71 stack-up, getting rammed from behind by Parker Kligerman. While the damage was minimal, Hemric struggled to find balance on center-exit of the corners, mired outside the top 10 multiple times.

Just like Hill though, Hemric turned a trying day into a strong finish, dodging incidents to earn his fourth straight top 10 and second consecutive top five. It’s the second time this season Hemric has notched a streak of four top 10s in a row, as he continues to pad his advantage over the cut line.

Sammy Smith appeared to have the only car in the latter stages of the race for Nemechek. Smith looked to have something for his teammate on the short run, but the long run and a slip on a late restart in the final stage cost him ground, leaving him in fifth. With a win at Phoenix and a top five in New England, the rookie could be a sleeper in the title race if he can get there.

Allgaier certainly will be disappointed with the way things worked out, as he had the best car early on, especially on the long run. But the mistakes compounded by getting caught up in the pileup in stage two took his chances of winning away. Despite the extended damage to his No. 7, Allgaier continued to display his persistent drive, spending much of the race inside the top 10. The 37-year-old ultimately finished sixth, scoring his 12th top 10 of the season. Still, the 2022 New Hampshire winner will have the sting of falling short of back-to-back victories in The Granite State.

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The back half of the top 10 was packed with underdog surprises. Thanks to several incidents involving top contenders, Jeb Burton led the way with a seventh-place result. It was his first top 10 since he finished seventh at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Josh Williams had one of the best non-superspeedway races of his career. Williams scored six stage points in stage two thanks to some strategy. However, he stayed inside the top 20 the whole day and capitalized on others’ mistakes to finish eighth, his second consecutive top 10.

While nearly every bubble driver experienced trouble, Brett Moffitt put together a complete race, flirting with a top 10 much of the race. In the end, he left with a ninth-place finish, his third straight finish of 11th or better, and now sits 42 points back of the cut line.

Mason Massey rounded out the top 10 in SS GreenLight Racing’s No. 08. Massey was stacked up in the lap 71 jam, but did not receive enough damage to hinder his race. It is the third top 10 of Massey’s career and his first in just three starts this season.

The Losers

Mark this down for the bubble drivers. The gap between drivers such as Sheldon Creed, Riley Herbst and Kligerman has tightened up recently. However, all three ended up with disappointing results.

Kligerman’s day came to an end in stage two when he ran into the back of Hemric, caving the nose in and leaving him with a 32nd-place finish. Entering the race, Kligerman sat just six points back of Herbst for the final playoff spot. Fortunately for Kligerman, Herbst had issues of his own.

On lap 102, Herbst was battling Austin Dillon off of turn 4 when he came up the track. It didn’t appear that Herbst knew he wasn’t clear, causing Dillon to hook him into the outside wall. Herbst was able to continue, but was relegated to a 20th-place finish, his third straight result of 20th or worse. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver sits 18 points above Kligerman.

Creed’s advantage has not been comfortable, but he has been able to manage it. Still, runs like New Hampshire will not help. Creed found himself battling inside the top five in the late stages, looking to be on his way to a top-five result. However, coming to the white flag, he was hooked by Custer while battling for third. The contact sent both into the wall, collected Williams and Herbst, and dropped Creed to 21st. It is Creed’s fourth straight finish outside the top 10 and eight out of the last nine races.

Custer’s streak of 11 consecutive races inside the top 10 finally came to an end due to the last-lap crash. The No. 00 showed speed throughout the day, getting up to second in the late stages before a flurry of restarts.

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Overtime Crash Mars Ending of Xfinity Race at Loudon, Has Possible Playoff Implications

Scheme of the Week

If you were looking for the usual Cirkul colors on Hemric’s No. 11, you would still be looking. Hemric had Campers Inn RV on the car this weekend, a sponsor that has appeared on his teammates’ cars in both the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity this season. With the combination of the New Hampshire scenery and a different look for the 2021 series champion, it takes the honors this week.

Where to Next

The series heads to the Pocono Mountains for a race at The Tricky Triangle of Pocono Raceway.

Noah Gragson was victorious in the race a year ago with Ty Gibbs finishing in second. Both are now in Cup full time so it could provide an opportunity for Josh Berry, who finished third in the event. Creed could pad his advantage over the cut line with a similar run to last year, where he finished fifth.

The race is scheduled for Saturday, July 22 at 5:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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Dawg

I was always a fan of Joe’ so that has carried over To John Hunter. Happy to see him doing well. He often outran his boss, while running the truck series. And that’s a pretty good endorsement.

One thing I’m getting really tired of in any series, are drivers back in the pack, trying to guess the restart, & causing a big wreck in the process.
Then whining about it & blaming the leader for their mistake.
Seems like this has become the new normal. If you screw up, man up, & admit it.
As long as the leader starts in the restart zone, they’ve done nothing wrong, trying to control the restart from 14th place, or so always seems to lead to the same result.
I’d think drivers would learn that, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

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