After a flat tire during Stage 1, John Hunter Nemechek battled back to finish fourth in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Rinnai 250.
Chip Ganassi Racing announced back in December that Nemechek would make his debut in the stock car series. His performance, however, made it seem as if he was a veteran in the series. His first qualifying attempt for a Xfinity race placed him in the third overall position to start Saturday’s race with a speed of 180.769, one of only six drivers to break the 180 mph barrier.
As for the race, the first 35 laps were eventful for Nemechek to say the least. On Lap 10, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler and John Hunter Nemechek bumped through Turns 3 and 4. The unfortunate victim was Cole Custer, who would crash into the wall with heavy damage and end his day early. On Lap 33, Nemechek would blow a right front tire. Miraculously, he saved the car from crashing, which allowed his team to change tires and get him back to racing action. Even though he fell a lap down early in the event, he would battle back to put himself in the Lucky Dog position and place himself back on the lead lap. His and the team’s hard work paid off as they finished in the fourth position, claiming the highest finish of any Chevrolet in the field.
Nemechek shared his perspective of his weekend during a post-race interview.
“I’m happy with the outcome that we had, finishing fourth there. My goal was to come here and run all the laps, learning as much as I could and hopefully bring home a top-five run. After we unloaded yesterday [Friday], my first ever lap in an Xfinity car was lap one of practice. I have definitely learned a lot from both practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
“We blew a right front at the end of the first stage. It seemed like tire wear was really big today, and we were victim to circumstances. Luckily, we were able to get the Lucky Dog, get back on the lead lap and rebound from the back to come back to the front. At that last pit stop, we were able to get by Elliott [Sadler] to bring it home fourth.
“I’m looking forward to getting in more races as the year goes on.”
When asked about his performance during the final run of the race, Nemechek credited his spotter for his guidance and his crew chief for their relationship.
“Listening to Mike Shiplett and Derek Kneeland. Derek up on the spotter’s stand just telling me to be patient. I feel like myself and Mike Shiplett have created a good communicational bond so far this year, being able to make adjustments on the race car and trying to fix what we need to fix to make it faster at the end.”
Nemechek does come from a racing family. His father, Joe who is nicknamed “Front Row Joe,” made a solid career in the Monster Energy Cup Series with four wins and 10 poles across 23 years. He also gathered over a dozen victories in the Xfinity series. His uncle, John Nemechek, was also a NASCAR competitor, primarily in what is now the Camping World Truck Series. He competed in 43 events over three years until 1997 when he suffered a fatal crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway during a Truck race.
John Hunter shared his excitement on his official Twitter account shortly after the race.
Solid day to rebound from a RF tire that came apart and going a lap down. Came back to finish 4th! The @CGRTeams guys gave me a fast piece! Thankful for the opportunity from @GanassiChip and all parties involved! Looking forward to the next one! #firealarmservices pic.twitter.com/bvbI7i8Jra
— John Hunter Nemechek (@JHNemechek) February 25, 2018
Nemechek will pilot the No. 42 Chevrolet in multiple Xfinity Series races throughout the year, sharing the ride with Kyle Larson.
“I feel like going over to Chip Ganassi Racing, an established team who have won races, has helped as well,” declared Nemechek. “I feel like going over there, being able to talk with the guys and create relationships definitely helps. Any lap that you’re on the track, you’re gaining experience, and experience is key. Nothing can outweigh that.”
Chase Briscoe also made his debut in the Xfinity Series, finishing in the 15th position.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will race next at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 3 for the Boyd Gaming 300. You can order race tickets on the speedway’s website at http://www.lvms.com/tickets/pennzoil_400/.