Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: John Hunter Nemechek Takes the Win in Windy Sin City

John Hunter Nemechek won the jackpot, cashed in his chips… OK, that’s enough gambling references. Nemechek took the victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ The LiUNA! at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday (March 2).

On a day where wind gusts went up to about 70 mph, the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led 99 laps en route to the win. Nemechek retook the lead for the final 11 laps after Justin Allgaier and Josh Williams, who stretched their fuel runs, pitted during the final pit cycle.

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John Hunter Nemechek Wins 1st Xfinity Series Race of 2024

Cole Custer surged up to second, while Chandler Smith, who led 74 laps early on, placed third. Austin Hill and Riley Herbst rounded out the top five.

Winners

This year has opened similarly to 2023, with Hill winning two of the first three races of the season and Nemechek winning the third. But instead of securing a spot in the playoffs, the win just adds to Nemechek’s and JGR’s career win totals in the Xfinity Series, as Nemechek is competing full time for Legacy Motor Club in the NASCAR Cup Series.

But I’m sure the Mooresville, North Carolina, native doesn’t mind the extra confidence and experience. While Xfinity cars are vastly different from the Next Gen cars, it still helps Nemechek to know he still has the talent to get things done, especially on a non-drafting 1.5-mile racetrack.

Nemechek’s fellow JGR cohort Smith looked strong at the beginning of the race, leading all the laps in stage one and winning both stages. However, his car struggled in handling after the next-to-last pit stop and he had to settle for third. 

Still, it was another good result for the driver of the No. 81 as he brought home his third straight top-five finish of the season. Smith’s currently on pace to match his top-five total of eight from 2023. It’s still early in this year, especially since we’ve only had one “normal” race, so the next few weeks will be ones to watch.

Apart from the Gibbs cars, Herbst and Ryan Sieg both had really good runs, with Herbst earning a top five and Sieg coming in seventh. Both drivers were in the top 10 most of the day and held their spots through the green-flag pit stops. Sieg’s result was much more needed after starting the season with a pair of 22nds. He jumped from 18th to 12th in the points standings as a result.

Three of JR Motorsports’ drivers — Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier — took positions eight, nine and 10, respectively. For Allgaier, it was one that showed just how much grit and determination the veteran driver has when things don’t go his way during the race weekend. 

He started out with a major slide in qualifying on Friday that put him in the back of the field. After finishing seventh and fourth in stages one and two, respectively, Allgaier trudged on until he found himself in the lead when Nemechek pitted for the final time. He led 11 circuits, all while being down on power, he told Frontstretch. Though Allgaier pitted around lap 180, he still was able to hang on to the 10th spot. 

Sometimes it’s in the face of adversity where one finds that inner strength to keep going forward, and the No. 7 team found that today.

See also
Down on Power, Justin Allgaier Hangs On for 10th at Vegas

Also, shout out to Josh Williams and Hailie Deegan, who both earned top 15s in Sin City.

Losers

On the other hand, sometimes adversity comes at you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Such was the case for Sam Mayer, who saw his day end early when a spinning Parker Retzlaff came down and hit the No. 1. It’s definitely not the ideal result, earning his second DNF of the year.

After Mayer was released from the care center, he told Frontstretch “it’s just a year from hell.” I don’t know if I would go that far, since the year’s just started, but it’s certainly been rough. These hard times are what makes wins that much sweeter, and I’m certain that Mayer will find victory lane once again this year.

Speaking of hard times, Retzlaff’s day didn’t go much better, aside from a fourth-place starting position. The damage repair set the Wisconsin native down a few laps, though he was able to continue. However, his run ended around lap 123 when he was stopped near the exit of pit road. Retzlaff later told Frontstretch that a fuel cable broke on the No. 31.

Jordan Anderson Racing had a pretty underwhelming day overall after some good finishes to start the year. Sage Karam had problems with his transmission that put him out of the race in 36th, one spot behind Retzlaff. Jeb Burton, meanwhile, ended a mediocre 23rd. 

The pack racing tracks are where they can likely shine the most, though.

Shane van Gisbergen also saw his day end early at a style of track where he needs experience. After a third-place result at Atlanta, a souring engine forced the New Zealander behind the wall after just 20 laps.

van Gisbergen will have to wait until Texas Motor Speedway in April to try to learn more about mile and a half racetracks.

Fuel for Thought 

Were the winds a significant factor in how the race played out, with long green-flag runs and just two cautions for incidents? Perhaps not, since Smith shined at a track he’s strong at. I’m sure it didn’t help the drivers, who had to control their cars with high wind gusts in the turns. 

While the weather wasn’t major enough to force a delay for this race, Mother Nature has forced some odd delays in the past at Las Vegas, in both Xfinity and the Cup Series. In 2022, snow briefly fell from the sky during a red flag in the Xfinity spring race. Then, in 2016, the Cup race saw heavy winds, rain and even a dust storm affect their event.

With the way this season has gone, I’m thankful that the weather cooperated enough to get the full race in without any stoppages.

Let’s hope it continues.

Where to Next

In one week, Xfinity drivers head to Phoenix Raceway for the Call 811.com Every Dig. Every Time. 200. Practice starts on March 9 at 12:30 p.m. ET with qualifying shortly after. The race will then air at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Radio coverage will be available on MRN Radio affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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