John Hunter Nemechek grabs third Xfinity victory of 2023 at Atlanta

An overtime shootout amid a late on-track incident provided an opportunity for John Hunter Nemechek to capitalize against Kaulig Racing’s trio squad, which he did so as he motored his way to a thrilling victory in the Alsco Uniforms 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 8.

The 26-year-old Nemechek from Mooresville, North Carolina, led the final three of 169 over-scheduled laps in an event where he started on the front row and was running up front with the front-runners before he slipped and lost the draft in the closing laps of the first stage. In spite of not finishing in the top 10 during both stage periods, a multi-car wreck at the start of the final stage drew Nemechek and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota crew back into contention.

He was left to contend against Kaulig Racing’s triple squad and a host of Xfinity Series regulars for the victory. Then after a caution period for Austin Hill’s wreck with three laps remaining that sent the field into overtime, Nemechek received a push from Daniel Hemric to overtake Justin Haley for the lead and fend off Hemric for two laps to capture his third checkered flag of the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, rookie Chandler Smith scored his second Xfinity career pole after posting a pole-winning lap at 172.565 mph in 32.127 seconds. Joining him on the front row was John Hunter Nemechek, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 171.971 mph in 32.238 seconds.

Prior to the event, the following names that included Sheldon Creed, Austin Hill, rookie Parker Retzlaff, Greg Van Alst and Mason Massey started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Chandler Smith and John Hunter Nemechek dueled for the lead through the first two turns until Smith launched ahead through the backstretch with drafting help from Josh Berry on the outside lane. Berry then veered left and drew himself alongside Smith through Turns 3 and 4. With both competitors remaining dead even entering the frontstretch, Smith managed to lead the first lap by a hair over Berry as rookie Sammy Smith, Nemechek and Riley Herbst pursued amid the draft.

During the second lap, Chandler Smith and Berry would continue to duel early for the lead in front of Sammy Smith and Nemechek as Smith managed to pull ahead and lead the proceeding laps while running on the outside lane.

Then on the fifth lap, Berry would manage to pull ahead on the inside lane in Turn 1 and emerge out in front of the stacked pack that fanned out through the backstretch. Berry would then lead by three-tenths of a second over a side-by-side duel between Chandler Smith and Nemechek as all 37 starters were separated within nine seconds. Berry would continue to lead as the event surpassed its Lap 10 mark. By then, Herbst moved up to third behind Chandler Smith while Nemechek was in fourth in front of teammate Ty Gibbs.

At the Lap 20 mark, Berry continued to lead by a tenth of a second over Chandler Smith, Herbst, Nemechek, Ty Gibbs, Justin Haley, Custer, Jeremy Clements, Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. By then, Austin Hill, who started the event at the rear of the field, carved his way up to 11th ahead of Brandon Jones, Parker Kligerman, Sam Mayer and Anthony Alfredo while Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed, Joe Graf Jr. and Sammy Smith occupied the top 20.

Seven laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Kligerman, who was running within the top 15, spun in Turn 2 after cutting a left-rear tire on his No. 48 Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Camaro. During the first caution period, some including Ty Gibbs, Custer, Moffitt, Mayer, Creed and Sammy Smith pitted while the rest led by Berry remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Ty Gibbs was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation.

When the race restarted on Lap 34, Berry, who restarted on the outside lane, muscled ahead with a push from Herbst as he retained the lead over Nemechek, who restarted on the inside lane before he pulled even through the backstretch. Berry and Nemechek would then duel for the lead amid a stacked pack trailing behind, with the former still emerging out in front. As the laps proceeded, Nemechek then slipped up the track in Turns 3 and 4, which allowed Herbst, Chandler Smith, Hill, Haley and Clements to move up while Berry retained the lead.

When the final lap of the first stage struck, Berry was still leading ahead of a side-by-side battle between Herbst and Chandler Smith. Then exiting the backstretch, Herbst gained a strong run to Berry’s outside amid a push from Haley. With Chandler Smith trying to draw against Berry entering the frontstretch, Herbst used the momentum from the outside lane to pull away with the lead and claim the first stage victory on Lap 40, which marked his first stage victory of the 2023 season. Berry, who led 34 of 40 laps, settled in second while Chandler Smith, Haley, Hill, Allgaier, Clements, Creed, Joe Graf Jr. and Retzlaff were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, a majority of the field led by Herbst pitted while others led by Creed, who was among those who pitted during the first caution period, remained on the track. During the pit stops, Jeb Burton exited first after only opting for fuel in his car while Herbst, the first competitor who pitted for fresh tires, followed pursuit.

The second stage started on Lap 46 as Creed and Custer occupied the front row. At the start, Creed gained a brief advantage on the outside lane until Custer drew himself into a side-by-side challenge with Creed from the inside lane. As both continued to duel, Creed would manage to lead at the start/finish line when the field returned to the frontstretch.

By Lap 50 and with the field fanning out, Ryan Sieg made his move to the front as he battled Creed for the lead. Not long after, the caution returned for an incident involving Nemechek and Retzlaff in Turn 4. During the caution period, some including Moffitt and Daniel Hemric pitted while the rest led by Sieg remained on the track.

During the following restart on Lap 56, Sieg and Creed dueled for the lead as Creed attempted to take the lead while restarting on the inside lane. Sieg, however, fought back on the outside lane and despite gaining a strong run through Turns 3 and 4, Creed would return to the top of the leaderboard during the following lap. Creed would continue to lead by a hair through the Lap 60 mark as Hill was lurking in the top five behind Sieg, Custer and Chandler Smith.

Then two laps later and just as Sieg overtook Creed amid a tight battle at the front, the caution flew when Greg Van Alst, a newcomer to the Xfinity Series and winner of this year’s ARCA Menards Series opener at Daytona International Speedway, wrecked along with Mason Massey in Turn 4 as Van Alst’s No. 44 car burst into flames, with the driver able to exit uninjured. Amid an extensive caution period, some including Chandler Smith, Haley, Herbst, Mayer, Nemechek, Jeb Burton, Brandon Jones, Parker Retzlaff, Joe Graf Jr., Brennan Poole, Blaine Perkins, Garrett Smithley and David Starr pitted while the rest led by Sieg remained on the track.

When the race restarted on Lap 71, Creed managed to overtake Sieg to reassume the lead. As Creed continued to lead during the proceeding laps, Hill then commenced his attempt to take the lead as he tried to overtake Sieg, who blocked and briefly stalled his momentum. By Lap 75, however, Hill carved his way into second as he then battled dead even against teammate Creed for the lead. While Hill would lead a lap for himself on Lap 77, he would remain stuck in a dead-even battle with teammate Creed as Sieg, Custer, Berry, Allgaier and the rest of the field pursued in close-quarters racing.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 80, Creed fended off a last-lap charge from teammate Hill to claim his fourth stage victory of the 2023 season. Hill settled in second while Sieg, Berry, Allgaier, Custer, Hemric, Chandler Smith, Kligerman and Sammy Smith were scored in the top 10. By then, the top-12 competitors were separated by nine-tenths of a second while 36 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.

During the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Creed pitted for service while Joe Graf Jr., Akinori Ogata and Mason Massey remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Allgaier was the first competitor to exit pit road first followed by Clements, Haley, Mayer, Hemric and Custer. Both Allgaier and Clements, however, would return to pit road after both missed their respective pit boxes amid the pit stops with the majority of the field. This cycled Haley into second behind Graf, who remained on the track with the lead, while Mayer, Hemric and Custer were scored in the top five.

With 77 laps remaining, the final stage started as Graf and Haley occupied the front row. At the start, Graf briefly took off with the lead through Turns 1 and 2 until Haley rocketed to the lead followed by teammates Hemric and Chandler Smith on the inside lane.

Two laps later, the caution quickly returned for a multi-car wreck that started when Herbst, who was running within the top 12, dropped off the pace through the backstretch after losing a left-rear tire on his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang. Herbst’s tire issue ignited a stack-up and a chain-reaction wreck that involved Sieg, Mayer, Blaine Perkins, Poole, Weatherman, Alfredo, Josh Williams, Brandon Jones and Creed. The multi-car wreck on the backstretch occurred just as Ty Gibbs had also fallen off the pace and was running at the rear of the field due to a flat right-rear tire on his car.

During the caution period, names that included Mason Massey, Berry, Mayer, Garrett Smithley, Josh Bilicki, Clements, Allgaier, Poole, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brandon Jones, Kyle Weatherman and Alfredo pitted for adjustments and repairs while the rest led by Kaulig Racing’s trio of Haley, Hemric and Chandler Smith remained on the track.

When the race restarted with 67 laps remaining, Haley, who restarted on the outside lane and in front of teammates Hemric and Chandler Smith, retained the lead ahead of Nemechek, who restarted on the inside lane. Haley would remain in front of teammates Hemric and Chandler Smith with the lead during the proceeding laps. The caution, however, would return with 63 laps remaining when Kyle Weatherman came to a stop at the entrance of pit road after he had made earlier contact with the wall.

During the proceeding restart with 55 laps remaining, Haley received the upper hand amid a side-by-side duel against Nemechek through the first two turns as Haley retained the lead through the backstretch. With Haley out in front, teammate Hemric settled in second while Nemechek, Hill and Graf were in the top five.

With 50 laps remaining, Haley was still leading by a tenth of a second over teammate Hemric as Hill motored past Nemechek for third place. By then, Graf retained fifth while Custer, Retzlaff, Sammy Smith, Kligerman and Chandler Smith were in the top 10. A few laps later, Hill navigated his way around Hemric for second place as he ignited his pursuit of Haley for the lead.

Down to the final 40 laps of the event, Haley continued to lead by a tenth of a second in his No. 10 Campers Inn RV Chevrolet Camaro over Hill while Chandler Smith made a bold, aggressive move from the inside to the outside lane to move up to third in front of teammate Hemric and Nemechek while Custer, Retzlaff, Kligerman, Moffitt and Graf were in the top 10. By then, the top-14 competitors were separated by two-and-a-half seconds with the top seven separated within a second.

Three laps later, Hill, who tried to make an early move on Haley for the lead, was unable to execute his move for the lead and lost the draft towards the front with no one electing to draft with him as Chandler Smith, Hemric, Nemechek and Custer all overtook him, which dropped Hill to sixth on the leaderboard.

Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Kaulig Racing’s trio led by Haley and followed by teammates Chandler Smith and Hemric were at the top of the leaderboard followed by Nemechek and Custer while Hill was still mired back in sixth. Meanwhile, Kligerman, who was a lap down following his early incident, was back up to seventh followed by Retzlaff, Moffitt and Allgaier while Sammy Smith, Ty Gibbs, Clements, Graf and Mayer were in the top 10.

With 15 laps remaining, Haley was still leading by a tenth of a second ahead of teammates Smith and Hemric while Hill carved his way back to fourth as he then tried to challenge Hemric for third. By then, the top-six competitors that included Hill, Nemechek and Allgaier were separated by seven-tenths of a second as the leaders were also starting to approach lapped traffic. With some of the lapped traffic that included Berry were lapped, Haley would retain the lead ahead of his Kaulig Racing teammates with 10 laps remaining.

Then with three laps remaining, Hill, who moved up to third as he along with Nemechek and Kligerman overtook Hemric, had his hopes of winning at his home track three consecutive times evaporate after the air off of Kligerman’s front nose of the car caused Hill’s No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro to get loose as he slipped sideways and made rear end contact with the outside wall in between Turns 3 and 4 with the caution flying and the event being sent into overtime.

With the field restarting in overtime, Chandler Smith and Kligerman both ran out of fuel, which caused the field to fan out and scatter as Nemechek rocketed his No. 20 Mobil 1 Toyota Supra to the lead over Haley with Hemric pushing Nemechek out in front. Through the backstretch and with the field still being scattered, Nemechek led a four-car breakaway that involved Hemric, Haley and Custer, all of whom were separated by three-tenths of a second.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Nemechek remained the leader by a tenth of a second over Hemric as Haley tried to make a move beneath Hemric for second. With Nemechek retaining the lead in front of the field through Turns 1 and 2, Hemric retook the runner-up spot from teammate Haley entering the backstretch and tried to gain a run amid the draft on Nemechek with Custer following suit. Nemechek, however, blocked Hemric’s No. 11 Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro entering Turn 3, which stalled Hemric’s momentum and was the difference maker as Nemechek was able to muscle away entering the frontstretch and claim the checkered flag by two-tenths of a second.

With the victory, Nemechek, who last won at Martinsville Speedway in April, notched his third victory of the 2023 Xfinity season and the fifth of his career as he joined Austin Hill as three-time race winners of this season. He also achieved his second NASCAR national touring series victory at Atlanta after winning the Truck Series event at Atlanta in February 2016 and the fifth of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I got a huge push from [Hemric in overtime], so thanks to Daniel for giving me that huge push,” Nemechek said on USA Network. “Early on in the race, if you would’ve said that we would’ve won the race, I definitely would’ve told you that wasn’t going to be the case. We didn’t have the fastest car tonight. I’m really proud of this whole No. 20 team. We just had to keep making our Mobil 1 Toyota GR Supra better all night. [Crew chief] Ben [Beshore] and the guys did awesome. They made the right adjustments all night, got us to where we needed to be. It came down to an overtime finish and luckily, we were able to execute on that restart. Proud to be the one holding the wheel of this No. 20 car.”

Meanwhile, Hemric settled in second place for a second consecutive time at Atlanta after also finishing second at Atlanta earlier in March. In between his two runner-up results at Atlanta, he has finished in the top 10 six times in 11 events. Despite coming up one spot short of winning, he has moved up to 10th place in the Xfinity regular-season standings and is 41 points above the top-12 cutline to make the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoffs.

“I showed some super amount of frustration at the end when I got out of the car,” Hemric said. “I felt like I’d backed up to [Nemechek] there and thought I was gonna have the run down the front to at least give myself an opportunity to get [Nemechek] back. It’s frustrating. Obviously, we all want to bring back Kaulig [Racing] some trophies. For sure, [I] let one get away here tonight. I probably couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to there throughout the last 20 laps, even trying to hold [Hill] off there for our organization. When the dust started to settle, I thought we were gonna have an opportunity to do something special there. Hate it for [sponsor] Cirkul. I wanted to get them to Victory Lane, but fell short.”

Custer settled in third after edging Haley, who led a race-high 80 laps, in a photo finish while Sam Mayer came home in fifth.

Ty Gibbs, Kyle Sieg, Kligerman, Josh Williams and Sammy Smith completed the top 10. Notably, pole-sitter Chandler Smith ended up 20th after running out of fuel during the overtime attempt and never recovering his pace.

There were 14 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 50 laps. In total, 17 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

With nine Xfinity regular-season events remaining on the schedule, John Hunter Nemechek leads the regular-season standings by 16 points over Austin Hill, 45 over Cole Custer and 54 over Justin Allgaier.

Results.

1. John Hunter Nemechek, three laps led

2. Daniel Hemric

3. Cole Custer

4. Justin Haley, 80 laps led

5. Sam Mayer

6. Ty Gibbs

7. Kyle Sieg

8. Parker Kligerman

9. Josh Williams

10. Sammy Smith

11. Brett Moffitt

12. Austin Hill, one lap led

13. Jeb Burton

14. Kaz Grala

15. Jeremy Clements

16. Parker Retzlaff

17. Justin Allgaier

18. Josh Bilicki, one lap down

19. Josh Berry, one lap down, 34 laps led

20. Chandler Smith, one lap down, five laps led

21. Joe Graf Jr., two laps down, four laps led

22. David Starr, two laps down

23. Jeffrey Earnhardt, two laps down

24. Mason Massey, two laps down

25. Ryan Ellis, two laps down

26. Garrett Smithley, two laps down

27. Parker Chase, two laps down

28. Brennan Poole, four laps down

29. Akinori Ogata – OUT, Tranmission

30. Mason Maggio – OUT, Electrical

31. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident

32. Blaine Perkins – OUT, Accident

33. Brandon Jones – OUT, Dvp

34. Anthony Alfredo – OUT, Dvp

35. Sheldon Creed – OUT, Accident, 24 laps led, Stage 2 winner

36. Riley Herbst – OUT, Accident, three laps led, Stage 1 winner

37. Ryan Sieg – OUT, Accident, 15 laps led

38. Greg Van Alst – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is the series’ lone visit of the season to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, July 15, at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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