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Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer & John Hunter Nemechek Reflect on Clean, Thrilling Final Restart for Xfinity Title

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Just like Friday’s (Nov. 3) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series finale at Phoenix Raceway, the conclusion of Saturday’s Xfinity Series finale came down to a final restart.

That’s where the similarities end.

Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer lined up 1-2-3-4 for the restart of the season and the quartet battled two- and three-wide through the winding turns in a late-night thriller that saw Custer come out on top to claim the first Xfinity championship of his career.

But for everyone winner in NASCAR’s championship finale, there are three drivers that came up just short.

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Nemechek, who won a series-high seven races in 2023, led 66 laps on the night and had been one of the few cars that was able to match the speed of Custer’s No. 00 machine. Nemechek started on the front row and looked to have the advantage into turn 1, but the No. 20 missed the corner and was out of the picture by the time the white flag waved.

“I got a really good jump off the bottom,” Nemechek said. “Had everyone cleared and I drove in [turn] 1 on the bottom, just like I had all day, and it just wanted to go straight.

“So I’m not sure if we started having a right front go down at that point or what, but we ended up blowing the right front there at the end and kind of ruined our shot. Man, it sucks that it comes down to one race and that this is the way that it has to end, this year in 2023.

“But we have nothing to hang our head on. We were there all day, we led laps. We battled with Cole and Justin and Sam and raced each other super hard. It sucks that it comes down to a one-race finish, but it is what is is. It’s the cards that are dealt and we got to play it. We were close, but proud of this team, proud of the No. 20 group.”

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Mayer was making his first Championship 4 appearance in a breakout 2023 season that saw him score the first four wins of his career. He faced a tall order by restarting on the inside of the second row for the restart and he was only able to muster a fifth-place finish by the checkered flag.

Still, there was plenty for Mayer to celebrate in his career year.

“Those last couple of restarts, I took as much as I could,” Mayer said. “And it’s just, like, you can only take so much when you’re in that spot. And we were in a tough spot; second in line on the bottom was probably the worst spot to be in overall. And still, to finish in the top five and get third in the Champ 4, it feels good.

“… to make the Championship 4 in general is huge, like that’s a feat in itself. So, I’m happy to be here. Like, I put a smile on my face all week because you only have one first time here in the Champ 4. So, I’m looking forward to having another one doing even better.”

Like Nemechek, Allgaier also looked to have a chance to pull ahead as the field got up to speed through the first two turns. But it was an incredible first two corners that got Custer even with the No. 7 car, and Allgaier didn’t have the turn through turns 3 and 4 as Custer set sail for the white-flag lap.

“Probably going to second guess the amount of space that I gave Cole in that last restart getting into [turn] 3,” Allgaier said. “But on the other side of it, I mean, Cole’s car was so good on the shorter end; it was so hard to hold him off.

“I mean, even when we got three-wide down the back, I’m like, ‘man, it’s everything I’ve got,’ and I was blown away that he even got to my left rear off of [turn] 2. So, you know, all in all it was a good night for us, disappointing, but I walked out of here last year really bummed about the way the night went because I felt like I didn’t do a good job. Tonight, I walked out of here, we gave 100%. We did everything right; it just didn’t work out for us.”

Also not lost on all the competitors was that the Xfinity title finish was a night-and-day difference in comparison to the chaos of the Truck race. It was something that Nemechek took pride in despite the defeat.

“I think that out of the four guys that raced for the championship tonight, there’s a lot of mutual respect between each other, like we have raced each other all season long,” Nemechek said. “Sam came on there toward the end, but I feel like between Justin, Cole and myself, we have raced each other as hard as we possibly can, as clean as we possibly can all season long and battled for wins. The respect there is huge.”

Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart also set the record straight on the finish as he and the rest of SHR prepared to celebrate a title.

“Tonight’s the example [young racers should] want to go off of, not last night. That was an shitshow.”

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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Mutual respect and raced each other clean. Good race start to finish. I didn’t care who won. I hope the Cup race is the same way and I don’t care who wins.

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