Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: John Hunter Nemechek Handles Grueling Texas

The Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas was a scorcher. With 99-degree ambient temperatures and the dreaded PJ1 lane, cars were dropping like flies.

John Hunter Nemechek won his seventh race of the year. Nemechek had run around the back end of the top five throughout the day, but a mixture of strategy, speed and survival gave the driver headed to Cup next year his ticket to the next round of the playoffs.

Four playoff drivers will be eliminated after next week’s race at the Charlotte ROVAL. On Saturday (Sept 23), four playoff drivers finished outside the top 20 after being caught up in the calamity of the day.

Tire allotments and a timely caution during a pit sequence jumbled up the field, and another late-race caution left some drivers on fresh rubber while others stayed out, having no more tires to put on.

Parker Kligerman finished second in a race he knows he should’ve won. Sammy Smith and Chandler Smith quietly finished third and fourth, respectively. Justin Allgaier came home fifth after dominating the race with 133 laps led.

See also
Parker Kligerman Misses 1st Xfinity Win After 10-Lap Duel at Texas

Cole Custer finished sixth. With a mangled car, Austin Hill somehow managed to salvage a seventh. Sheldon Creed fought an ill-handling car all day but rebounded to finish eighth. Brandon Jones and Brett Moffitt rounded out the top 10.

Winners

This win was similar to another win earlier this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In both races, Nemechek didn’t quite have a car to run up front all day. Instead, he hovered around fourth and fifth throughout much of the day. As the cars who’d been beating him most of the day ran into trouble or found themselves on the wrong side of strategy, Nemechek seized his chance.

It wasn’t a mistake-free race for the eventual winner though. On a restart with 10 laps to go, Nemechek’s car popped out of third gear heading into turn 1. The temporary setback kept him in fourth and nearly a second behind the leader.

He got around the very wounded car of Hill and then watched Kligerman and Allgaier get into a dust-up ahead of him with eight to go. Their incident caused the pair to lose momentum and Nemechek passed by easily. From there, it was smooth sailing.

See also
John Hunter Nemechek Sneaks 7th NXS Win of 2023 at Texas

The 26-year-old from Mooresville, N.C. exits as the points leader. He’s been uneven on the road courses this year, so he’s fortunate to head into the ROVAL knowing he is locked into the next round of the playoffs.

Kligerman had a very good points day but it should’ve been a win. He went into turn 3 underneath Allgaier with eight to go, racing for the lead. As they went though turns 3 and 4, Kligerman got loose and washed up the track, slowing both his machine and Allgaier’s, giving an easy pass to Nemechek for the lead.

Kligerman was on the same tire sequence as Nemechek and they both had fresher tires than Allgaier. Had Kligerman been able to make a clean pass, he would’ve put Allgaier between himself and Nemechek and would’ve had a great chance to hold off Nemechek and score his first Xfinity Series win. Instead, he finished second and goes into the elimination race at the ROVAL one point below the cut line.

Sammy and Chandler Smith scored third and fourth place. Both drivers accrued points in the back half of the top 10 for each stage. Chandler Smith’s run was impressive due to having to start the race from the rear of the field. The unrelated drivers are now fifth and sixth in the standings. Chandler has a 14-point lead on Sammy.

Custer led a total of 28 laps. He finished third and second in the stages. His run may have been mildly disappointing for the team but they are locked into the next round of the playoffs on points. With all the carnage throughout the field, this unspectacular finish could’ve been a lot worse.

How Hill finished seventh, I’ll never know. His right front was demolished in a wreck involving Trevor Bayne and Josh Berry. At first it looked clear he would not be able to continue under the damaged vehicle policy. The right-front tire appeared to be badly bent inward.

But the Richard Childress Racing No. 21 team persevered and worked on the car the rest of the way, to give Hill a car capable of not only meeting minimum speed, but racing for the lead.

In the end, even with the herculean effort to repair the car, the damaged combined with being on the wrong side of the tire strategy relegated him to seventh. The par-save by the team allowed them to leave with a 44-point buffer to the playoff cut line.

Creed fought a terrible handling car throughout the race. At one point he got lapped by Allgaier and beat Ryan Ellis to the line by six inches for the lucky dog. From there he continued to chip away at the day, slowly climbing up the scoring pylon.

After the race he told Frontstretch about how he was racing with Dawson Cram, whom he admitted was doing a good job running in the low 20s, but whom he knew he should be running in front of. Creed went on to declare something must have been wrong with the car for it to handle as poorly as it did all day.

Moffitt didn’t collect any stage points, but at the end of the day he grinded out a top 10. Talking to Frontsretch about the heat he said, “That was about as it bad as it’s been, for me at least.” Moffit was glad to have kept the car clean, “We needed this car for Las Vegas in a couple weeks and its in good shape. Just a few minor repairs and we can head out west.”

Daniel Dye had a pretty nice Xfinity Series debut compared to expectations. Driving the No. 44 for Alpha Prime Racing, he had to qualify on time to make the show. His 26th-place qualifying effort got him in the show. He went on to finish 17th on the lead lap.

Losers

Sam Mayer‘s race was over as soon as it got started. On the first lap, Mayer could out of the groove and into the slippery old resin. He careened up the track into the wall. He finished 38th. Mayer came into the playoffs with some momentum but now finds himself at the bottom of the playoff standings. He heads into the elimination race at the ROVAL in a must-win scenario, 32 points behind Hemric for eighth.

Berry did score a few stage points, but exits Texas in a 27-point hole. Road courses have never been his strength, so this could be the end of Berry’s championship hopes. If he can stay out of trouble, score some stage points and benefit from some attrition, he has a chance to move on.

You have to feel for Jeb Burton. The biggest underdog to make the playoffs had a very good run going. Burton was running eighth in the second stage when he began to slide back through the field with a loose wheel. At the end of stage two, the wheel came off. A related mechanical issue was no easy fix. Eventually, it would end Burton’s day. Burton finished 31st and is now 19 points behind the cut line.

Daniel Hemric had to leave the track wondering what might’ve been. His teammate finished in the top five after starting from there rear, but Hemric could do no better than 24th. Hemric clipped the grass in the dogleg on lap 19. That spot on the track has bit drivers in the past, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. confessed to during the race broadcast on USA Network.

The impact with the grass caused major damage to his splitter and he would spend the rest of the day soldiering on wounded, much like Hill.

Despite the damage, Hemric remained on the lead lap late in the race. With seven laps remaining, something went awry and Hemric smacked the wall. This dropped him to 24th in the running order. Hemric is now just one point above the playoff cut line heading to the ROVAL.

Brennan Poole went for a wild ride and endured a scary hard impact into the pit road wall after contact with Ryan Sieg on the front stretch. Fortunately, Poole was OK. He finished 34th.

Fuel for Thought

As this race was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think it was a total disaster of a race overall. From the very first lap, the hot and slick conditions combined with the icy third lane to cause numerous drivers to lose control and wreck their cars.

As the race moved closer to its conclusion, it took on a different vibe. This race had the attrition of Daytona International Speedway with temperatures of the equator and a groove as narrow as Martinsville Speedway.

This race had an old-school feel to it, where survival was always in question and attrition was high. Drivers had to race the track as much as each other. Tire fall off was significant and that played a huge role in the finish. While Texas has a long way to go to get back into the good graces of the fans, this race finished much better than it began.

Kligerman heads into an elimination race down by a point. Sound familiar? It was the same scenario going into the final regular-season race. At Kansas Speedway, Kligerman trailed Riley Herbst by a point. He went on to finish fourth in that race. A similar performance should carry him into another round. Kligerman has four top fives in the last six races. It feels like he’s peaking at the right time.

Who are your picks to get eliminated after the next race? I’m going with Mayer, Berry, Burton and Hemric.

Where to Next?

The series gets a weekend off. We’ll return to action on Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Drive for the Cure 250 will be televised on NBC and broadcast on the Performance Racing Network.

About the author

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Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023 and covers the Xfinity Series. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and and lives in Wisconsin.

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