With a championship spot on the line for eight Playoff contenders, including runner-up Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek, a part-time Xfinity Series competitor, had other plans and stole the spotlight after rallying from a late pit road penalty to win the Andy’s Frozen Custard 335 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, October 16, while on two fresh tires.
Nemechek, who currently competes as a full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship competitor for Kyle Busch Motorsports, led three times for a race-high 92 of 200 laps as he fended off Hemric by more than a second to deny Hemric and seven other Playoff contenders an early automatic spot to the Championship Round at Phoenix Raceway scheduled in early November.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Xfinity event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Xfinity race. With that, AJ Allmendinger, winner of last weekend’s Playoff event at the Charlotte Roval, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Austin Cindric.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Allmendinger got off to a strong start as he cleared his No. 16 Andy’s Frozen Custard Chevrolet Camaro through the field through the first turn and led the first lap ahead of Cindric and Daniel Hemric. Behind, Noah Gragson was in fourth ahead of Justin Haley and Brandon Jones.
The following lap, Hemric, who was running on the outside lane, slipped from second to fifth as Cindric, Gragson and Haley muscled their way to the front on the inside lane.
By the fifth lap, Allmendinger was leading by nearly a second over Cindric while the field continued to jostle for positions towards the front.
Through the first 13 laps, Allmendinger continued to lead the field. Then, Cindric emerged with the top spot in his No. 22 Snap-On Ford Mustang on Lap 14.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 20, Cindric remained out in front. During the competition caution, the front-runners led by Cindric elected to remain on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 25, Cindric and Allmendinger engaged in a tight side-by-side battle through Turn 1 and ahead of the field until Cindric squeaked ahead entering the backstretch. Then, the caution returned when Landon Cassill stalled his car in Turn 4.
Under caution, Jeb Burton and rookie Sam Mayer, both of whom made contact on the track, pitted for repairs.
Six laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Cindric received a strong start on the inside lane after receiving a push from Hemric, which allowed him to clear Allmendinger entering Turn 1 as Hemric also moved up to second place.
On Lap 33, Gragson made the slightest on contact to the rear bumper of Allmendinger’s car, which sent Allmendinger up the track and down from fourth to sixth while Gragson and Brandon Jones moved up. By then, Cindric continued to lead by a decent margin over Hemric.
In the closing laps of the first stage, the third caution of the event flew when JJ Yeley stalled in Turn 4. Under caution, some like John Hunter Nemechek, Myatt Snider, Ryan Sieg, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, rookie Sam Mayer, and Riley Herbst pitted while the rest led by Cindric remained on the track.
Following a one-lap shootout to conclude the first stage on Lap 45, Cindric, who retained the lead, claimed his 10th stage victory of the season. Gragson settled in second followed by Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Haley, Harrison Burton, Jeremy Clements, Brett Moffitt and Brandon Brown.
Under the stage break, some led by Cindric pitted while the rest led by Hemric, who pitted under the previous caution, remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 51. At the start, Hemric pulled his No. 18 Craftsman Toyota Supra away from teammate Nemechek following a strong start on the inside lane while Mayer and Brandon Jones battled for third. In addition, Riley Herbst and Austin Hill overtook Myatt Snider through three lanes to move up to fifth and sixth.
Three laps later, the caution returned due to debris reported on the track. In the midst of the battles occurring towards the front and around the track, Hemric was out in front by a narrow margin over Nemechek.
When the race restarted on Lap 61, Hemric and Nemechek were locked in a heated, side-by-side lead for a full lap before Hemric cleared Nemechek entering Turn 2. By then, Nemechek slipped entering the backstretch, which allowed Sam Mayer to move into the runner-up spot.
Shortly after, the sixth caution flew when Ryan Sieg spun his No. 39 CMR Chevrolet Camaro in Turn 2.
When the race restarted on Lap 68, Hemric retained the lead on the inside lane while Mayer slipped after having brief issues getting going on the outside lane, which allowed Nemechek to reassume the runner-up spot.
Four laps later, Nemechek, making his second Xfinity Series start in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Romco Toyota Supra, peaked ahead of Hemric to lead for the first time, but Hemric fought back through the backstretch. Then in Turn 3, Hemric slipped up the track and nearly wrecked with Nemechek, but both Joe Gibbs Racing competitors kept their cars straight as they continued to battle for the lead through the frontstretch. By the time the leaders entered the backstretch, Nemechek cleared Hemric to retain the lead.
By Lap 75, Nemechek was leading by half a second over Hemric while Mayer, Jeb Burton and Riley Herbst were in the top 10. Haley was in sixth ahead of Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Cindric. Allmendinger, meanwhile, was in 11th ahead of Gragson and Harrison Burton.
With less than 10 laps remaining in the second stage, Nemechek extended his advantage to a full second over teammate Hemric while third-place Mayer trailed by more than six seconds. By then, Cindric slipped back to 12th behind Allmendinger while Gragson moved up to ninth. In addition, Haley overtook Herbst to move in the top five behind teammate Jeb Burton.
Having no competition lingering or closing towards him, Nemechek, who made his way through lapped traffic, came back around to claim the second stage victory on Lap 90, which marked his second stage victory of the season. Hemric settled in second, trailing by a second, followed by Mayer, Jeb Burton, Haley, Herbst, Annett, Allgaier, Gragson and Allmendinger.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Nemechek retained the lead ahead of Hemric, Mayer, Jeb Burton and Haley. During the pit stops, Allmendinger nearly left his pit stall without a left-front tire after his jackman dropped the jack early while the crew members were changing the tires on the left side. In addition, Allmendinger’s service was slow for repairs due to hitting a tire being held by Gragson’s crew member during Gragson’s service. Both returned to pit road to have the lug nuts on their respective machines secured. Soon after, Haley dropped to the rear of the field due to an uncontrolled tire violation.
With 103 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Nemechek jumped ahead following a strong start while Mayer issued a challenge on Hemric for the runner-up spot. Behind, Jeb Burton and Allgaier battled for fourth in front of Cindric.
Just shy of the halfway mark scheduled on Lap 100, the eighth caution flew for a heavy multi-car wreck involving Dylan Lupton, Tanner Berryhill and Jade Buford, who slammed into Lupton after nearly having the incident dodged.
Down to the final 92 laps, the race restarted under green. At the start, Nemechek launched ahead following another strong start while Hemric and Mayer battled again side-by-side for second. Then through the backstretch, Allgaier made a bold three-wide move to take over the runner-up spot entering Turn 3. Hemric, however, fought back and took over second place through the frontstretch as the field behind fanned out to multiple lanes while jostling for positions.
At the front, Nemechek extended his advantage to more than a second over Hemric and Allgaier while Mayer settled in fourth ahead of Jeb Burton and Cindric. Brandon Jones was in eighth, Harrison Burton was in 10th and Allmendinger was mired in 12th behind Herbst while ahead of Gragson and Haley. Meanwhile, Kyle Weatherman was penalized for a restart violation.
With 80 laps remaining, Nemechek stabilized his advantage to nearly two seconds over teammate Hemric while Allgaier remained in third ahead of Cindric and Jeb Burton. Annett was in sixth ahead of Brandon Jones, Gragson, Brandon Brown and Allmendinger. By then, Mayer had fallen back to 12th behind Haley, Harrison Burton was mired in the top 15.
Ten laps later, Nemechek remained as the leader by less than two seconds over Hemric while third-place Allgaier trailed by more than three seconds. Cindric remained in fourth ahead of Annett, Jeb Burton and Gragson, who recovered from his pit road issue following the second stage but was now under surveillance by NASCAR for possibly leaking fluid on the track.
Another 10 laps later, Nemechek, who was making his way through lapped traffic, continued to lead by two seconds over teammate Hemric as Allgaier, Cindric and Annett remained in the top five. Gragson also remained in sixth ahead of Allmendinger, Brandon Jones, Haley and Jeb Burton. Harrison Burton, meanwhile, remained as the lowest-running Playoff contender in 12th.
Two laps later, the ninth caution of the event flew when CJ McLaughlin spun in Turn 4. Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Nemechek exited the pits with the lead ahead of Hemric, Allgaier, Cindric, Annett and Gragson. During the pit stops, Nemechek dropped out of the lead after being penalized for having too many crew members over the wall. In addition, Brandon Brown was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Down to the final 51 laps of the event, the race restarted as Hemric and Allgaier occupied the front row. At the start, Cindric shoved Hemric clear of Allgaier through the first turn as he challenged Allgaier for second place. Meanwhile, Hemric was clear out in front while Annett overtook teammate Gragson for fourth. Behind, Allmendinger battled Brandon Jones for sixth.
With 40 laps remaining, Hemric was out in front by more than a second over Allgaier while third-place Cindric trailed by more than two seconds. Gragson and Allmendinger were in fourth and fifth while Annett, Haley, Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones and Herbst were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Nemechek was in 12th before he made a bold move through the backstretch to overtake Jones, Harrison Burton and Herbst for eighth place.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Hemric stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over Allgaier while third-place Gragson trailed by nearly four seconds. Allmendinger and Cindric were in the top five ahead of Annett and Nemechek, who continued to methodically make his way to the front with a fast car. Haley, Harrison Burton and Brandon Jones were in the top 10.
Just then, the 10th caution flew when Brandon Brown, winner at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this month, wrecked in the backstretch and retired due to heavy damage on his No. 68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Nemechek leap-frogged back to the lead following a two-tire stop ahead of Hemric, Allgaier, Gragson, Annett and Allmendinger. Meanwhile, Harrison Burton remained on the track to inherit the lead.
Down to the final 21 laps of the event, the race restarted. At the start, teammates Harrison Burton and Nemechek battled dead even for a full lap until Burton cleared Nemechek returning to the frontstretch.
The following lap, however, Nemechek returned to the lead for the first time since Lap 144 as Hemric joined the battle involving his two JGR teammates. Allgaier and Gragson were in the top five ahead of Allmendinger, Cindric, Haley, Annett and Brandon Jones.
With 15 laps remaining, Nemechek, racing on two fresh tires, was leading by less than seven-tenths of a second over teammate Hemric, who was trying to close in on four fresh tires, while third-place Harrison Burton, racing on four worn tires in his No. 20 Dex Imaging Toyota Supra, trailed by a second.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Nemechek stabilized his advantage to more than a second over teammate Hemric while Gragson was up in third, trailing in his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro by less than three seconds. Behind, Allgaier and Allmendinger were up in fourth and fifth followed by Cindric and Harrison Burton, who continued to hold strong on worn tires. Haley, Annett and Jones were in the top 10.
With five laps remaining, Nemechek, who started to make his way through lapped traffic, had his advantage decreased to less than a second as Hemric tried to close in for his first win and a championship finale spot.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Nemechek remained as the leader by more than a second over teammate Hemric. With a clear race track in front of him and his teammate unable to narrow the deficit, Nemechek, whose late strategy for only two fresh tires paid off, was able to come back around and claim his first checkered flag in this year’s Xfinity season.
With the victory, Nemechek collected his second Xfinity Series career win in his 55th series start, fourth of the season, and since winning his first at Kansas Speedway in October 2018. The victory was also the 10th of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Toyota Supra led by crew chief Chris Gayle. Nemechek’s win also comes two days after announcing that he will be remaining with Kyle Busch Motorsports for the 2022 Truck Series season.
This also marked the third time through the first four Playoff races where the events were won by non-Playoff Xfinity Series competitors.
“[Spotter] Stevie Reeves and Chris Gayle kept me calm [after the pit road penalty],” Nemechek said on NBC. “I think this year, I’ve grown a lot as a driver. I’ve been put in positions like that in the Truck Series as well. Man, I can’t say enough about this whole team. The No. 54 [car] has been fast every single week. My goal coming in was to win. I had to win to prove to myself that I can do this and it’s just like taking a step back to the Truck Series. I wanted to get back to Victory Lane. Thank you to all the fans that are out here. It’s an amazing accomplishment to get this one done, beating my teammate as well. We’re racing for an owner’s championship, so I’m back in the No. 54 [car] at Phoenix. Going for double championships there when we go.”
Behind Nemechek was Daniel Hemric, who led 54 laps but finished in second place for the 10th time in his career as he continues to pursue his first win across NASCAR’s top three national touring series. Ironically, Hemric also finished second to Nemechek during Nemechek’s first Xfinity career win in 2018.
“[Nemechek] just made a really good call to take two [tires] there,” Hemric, who was left dejected, said. “Obviously, clean air was so big. When we had clean air with our Craftsman Toyota Supra there at one point, it was really good. We were on the tighter side all day. Even earlier when [Nemechek] was better than us, he was just a little freer. I just couldn’t quite carry the same mid-quarter exit speed. [Crew chief] Dave Rogers made good adjustments all day, getting it better. Once we got that clean air, we were pretty well checked out. The caution came out and [Nemechek] just made a good call there to take two [tires]. It’s ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ It just didn’t work out. I was just too tight there. It never got far into the run where our tires could make a difference. With 20 laps to go, you’re not going to overcome the gap I needed to make up. Too tight. I was whipping it for all I had. [I] About pounded the fence there three or four times trying to catch [Nemechek]. Great job to those guys, congrats to those guys. Really fast JGR Supras. Just not quite good enough.”
Gragson rallied from his early pit road issue and damage to finish in third place followed by teammate Allgaier and Cindric.
Meanwhile, Allmendinger ended up in sixth place followed by teammate Haley, Harrison Burton, Annett and Brandon Jones, with the remaining eight Xfinity Playoff contenders finishing in the top 10.
There were eight lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 54 laps.
1. John Hunter Nemechek, 92 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Daniel Hemric, 55 laps led
3. Noah Gragson
4. Justin Allgaier
5. Austin Cindric, 34 laps led
6. AJ Allmendinger, 13 laps led, Stage 1 winner
7. Justin Haley
8. Harrison Burton, six laps led
9. Michael Annett
10. Brandon Jones
11. Jeb Burton
12. Riley Herbst
13. Sam Mayer
14. Ryan Sieg
15. Kaz Grala
16. Brett Moffitt
17. Bayley Currey
18. Tommy Joe Martins
19. Josh Williams
20. Austin Hill, one lap down
21. Myatt Snider, one lap down
22. Ryan Vargas, one lap down
23. Jeffrey Earnhardt, one lap down
24. Alex Labbe, one lap down
25. Kyle Weatherman, one lap down
26. Joe Graf Jr., two laps down
27. Mason Massey, four laps down
28. Spencer Boyd, four laps down
29. Jeremy Clements, four laps down
30. Joey Gase, five laps down
31. Jesse Little, five laps down
32. Matt Mills, seven laps down
33. Brandon Brown – OUT, Accident
34. David Starr – OUT, Engine
35. CJ McLaughlin – OUT, Suspension
36. Landon Cassill – OUT, Electrical
37. Tanner Berryhill – OUT, Accident
38. Dylan Lupton – OUT, Accident
39. Jade Buford – OUT, Accident
40. JJ Yeley – OUT, Engine
Bold indicates Playoff contenders.
1. AJ Allmendinger, +30
2. Austin Cindric, +26
3. Justin Allgaier, +4
4. Noah Gragson, +2
5. Daniel Hemric, -2
6. Justin Haley, -6
7. Harrison Burton, -21
8. Brandon Jones, -32
The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs will continue next weekend at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, October 23, with the race scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.