Nemechek wins Xfinity regular-season finale at Kansas; Kligerman claims final Playoff berth

Three days after unveiling his planned return to the NASCAR Cup Series for the 2024 season, John Hunter Nemechek took care of extra business in his closing stretch as a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor and capped off this year’s regular-season stretch on a dominant note by winning the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, September 9.

The 26-year-old Nemechek from Mooresville, North Carolina, led four times for a race-high 154 of 200-scheduled laps in an event that was mired with 10 caution flag periods and on-track chaos that affected a bevy of competitors who were either locked in or looking from the outside to make the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoff field. Amid the battles for the final Playoff berth, Nemechek, who had already guaranteed himself a Playoff spot based on winning five times throughout the regular-season stretch, came into Kansas with a mission to both win and try to gain ground on Austin Hill to steal the regular-season title in last-minute fashion.

Despite falling short in claiming the latter, Nemechek, who led for the first time on Lap 41, was flawless while leading as he executed the final restart with 50 laps remaining to perfection by muscling away and beating runner-up Brandon Jones by more than seven seconds to claim his unprecedented sixth checkered flag of the 2023 Xfinity season and officially enter the Playoffs with strong momentum in preparation to claim the series championship.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Justin Allgaier started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 176.206 mph in 30.646 seconds. Joining him on the front row was rookie Sammy Smith, who clocked in the second-best qualifying lap at 175.347 mph in 30.796 seconds.

Prior to the event, Leland Honeyman, who initially failed to qualify for the event, dropped to the rear of the field after replacing Timmy Hill in the No. 66 MBM Motorsports entry. Matt Mills also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his entry along with CJ McLaughlin, who fell back due to an engine change.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Allgaier and Sammy Smith dueled for the lead as the field began to fan out through the frontstretch and entering the first turn. Then as the field led by Allgaier made its way through the backstretch, the first caution flag of the event flew after Nick Leitz and Anthony Alfredo wrecked towards the outside wall and against each other in Turn 1.

When the race restarted under green on the fifth lap, Allgaier used the outside lane to his advantage as he rocketed away from Sammy Smith to retain the lead while Cole Custer, who restarted behind Allgaier, followed suit by claiming the runner-up spot. With Allgaier leading, Custer retained second over Sammy Smith while John Hunter Nemechek, Josh Berry, Brandon Jones and Daniel Hemric followed suit as the field behind fanned out and jostled for early spots.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps and as the field continued to jostle for spots, Allgaier was leading by six-tenths of a second over Custer followed by Nemechek, Sammy Smith and Brandon Jones while Berry, Hemric, Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill were in the top 10. Behind, Ryan Sieg was in 11th ahead of Riley Herbst while Sam Mayer, Parker Kligerman and rookie Chandler Smith battled in the top 15.

Two laps later, the second caution flag of the event flew due to debris reported near the entrance of pit road. During the caution period, select names, among which included rookie Chandler Smith and Jeremy Clements, pitted while the rest led by Allgaier, who was spotted to have a brake pad stuck on the splitter of his No. 7 BRANDT Chevrolet Camaro, remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Chandler Smith’s pit crew went under the hood to diagnose a mechanical issue that would eventually send Smith and his No. 16 Quick Tie Products Chevrolet Camaro team to the garage.

During the proceeding restart on Lap 18, Allgaier and Custer dueled for the lead through the frontstretch and they continued to duel through the backstretch while the field behind fanned out to three and four lanes. Then as Allgaier cleared the field and drove away from Custer entering the frontstretch, the caution quickly returned during the following lap when Sam Mayer, who was running ninth, made contact with Creed and spun across the frontstretch and was T-boned by Kyle Weatherman, thus knocking both out of the event.

As the event restarted under green on Lap 25, Allgaier and Custer dueled again for the lead through the frontstretch and backstretch until Allgaier used the outside lane to his advantage and rocketed away with the lead. With Allgaier leading, Nemechek started to gain ground on Custer for the runner-up spot as the field fanned out through the backstretch with Berry losing a bevy of spots and slipping out of the top 10 on the track.

At the Lap 30 mark, Allgaier was leading by six-tenths of a second over Nemechek, who overtook Custer for the runner-up spot a few laps earlier, while Custer, Sammy Smith and Hemric, who officially clinched his spot for the 2023 Xfinity Playoffs, were in the top five. Behind, Brandon Jones, needing a victory to make the Playoffs, was in sixth as he tried to close in on Hemric for a top-five spot while Hill, Kligerman, Creed and Derek Kraus were running in the top 10. With Kaz Grala, Ryan Sieg, Jeb Burton, Brett Moffit and Herbst occupying the top 15, Berry was back in 16th ahead of Connor Mosack, Joe Graf Jr., Rajah Caruth and Josh Williams.

Five laps later, Allgaier continued to lead by half a second over Nemechek while third-place Custer trailed by more than a second. Meanwhile, Hemric, who was running in the top five, plummeted to 20th due to an issue with his No. 10 Cirkul Chevrolet Camaro and while Berry was mired back in 14th. By then, Brandon Jones cracked the top five in fourth while Sammy Smith was in fifth. With Hemric continuing to fall off the pace and running in the apron, his early run went from good to bad and worse after he missed his pit stall while trying to pit and dropped out of the lead lap category as he would eventually take his car to the garage.

Then on Lap 41, Nemechek, who gained a massive run through the backstretch on Allgaier during the previous lap, overtook Allgaier for the lead in his No. 20 Pye Barker Fire & Safety Toyota Supra. With Allgaier trying to fight back through Turns 1 and 2 along with the backstretch, he nearly got loose in Turn 1 and slid up the track in Turn 3, which allowed Custer to battle him for the runner-up spot while Nemechek slowly started to pull away. Meanwhile, Herbst, who was battling Kligerman for the final spot to make the Playoffs, worked his way up to ninth while Kligerman, who was currently scored five points above the cutline over Herbst, was in seventh.

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 45, Nemechek, who was trying to gain ground on Austin Hill in battling for this year’s Xfinity regular-season title, captured his eighth Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season following his late rally and overtake on Allgaier for the lead. Custer settled in second followed by Allgaier while Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith, Kligerman, Hill, Creed, Herbst and Derek Kraus were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Nemechek pitted. Following the pit stops, Custer moved into the lead after exiting pit road first while Nemechek, Allgaier, Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones, Creed, Kligerman and Herbst followed suit.

The second stage started on Lap 51 as Custer and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start, Custer and Nemechek dueled for the lead as the field fanned out through the frontstretch and entering the first two turns until Nemechek managed to cycle around Custer and reassume the lead. With Nemechek back out in front with the lead, Allgaier started to battle Custer for second in front of Brandon Jones and Sammy Smith while Kligerman muscled his No. 48 Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Camaro up to sixth place in his bid to make the Playoffs. During the proceeding laps and with Nemechek still leading, Berry returned to the top 10 as he was running ninth in between Creed and Hill while Herbst joined the battle as he was five spots behind Kligerman on the track.

Then on Lap 58, the caution returned due to debris in the form of a tire carcass coming apart from Jeremy Clements’ entry in Turn 1. In the midst of the issue, Custer, who was running third in front of Sammy Smith, went up the track after running over the debris and scrubbed the outside wall in Turn 1 as he limped his damaged No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang to pit road for repairs. The damage, which broke the upper control arm in the No. 00 entry, was enough to terminate Custer’s strong run in the garage.

On the ensuing restart on Lap 64, Nemechek and Allgaier dueled for the lead in front of the field. Behind, however, Kligerman, who restarted in the top 10, spun the tires while trying to regain pace, which caused the field to briefly stack up as he was then hit by Herbst, who then fell off the pace as he went up the track with a flat tire and pitted his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang under green. Back on track, Nemechek retained the lead over Allgaier while Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones and Berry followed suit.

At the Lap 70 mark, Nemechek was leading by three-tenths of a second over Allgaier while Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones and Berry continued to run in the top five. By then, Kligerman, who continued to run under full power, was in eighth while Herbst was mired back in 32nd after he lost two laps in the process of pitting under green and was now 29 points behind Kligerman for a Playoff spot.

Four laps later, the caution flew when Brandon Jones, who was running fourth, snapped sideways and spun his No. 9 Menards Chevrolet Camaro across the frontstretch grass, though he continued without sustaining any damage.

With 11 laps remaining in the second stage period, the event restarted under green. At the start, teammates Nemechek and Sammy Smith dueled for the lead as the field fanned out through the frontstretch. With Nemechek muscling away with the lead, where he proceeded to lead the Lap 80 mark, Allgaier trailed and started to challenge Smith or the lead while Hill, Allgaier and Berry battled for fourth. Teammates, Allgaier and Berry would overtake Hill for third and fourth while Sammy Smith tried to gain ground on teammate Nemechek for the lead.

When the second stage period on Lap 90, Nemechek captured his ninth Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 and second of the day after extending his advantage to more than a second over teammate Sammy Smith. Smith settled in second followed by Allgaier, Berry and Hill while Kligerman, Creed Kraus, rookie Parker Retzlaff and Moffitt were scored in the top 10.

During the stage break, nearly the entire lead lap field led by Nemechek returned to pit road for service while Brandon Jones remained on the track to inherit the lead. Following the pit stops, Nemechek exited first while teammate, Sammy Smith, Hill, Creed, Allgaier, Kraus, Berry and Kligerman followed suit.

With 104 laps remaining, the final stage started as Brandon Jones and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start, Nemechek reassumed the lead after gaining a strong start from the inside lane while Hill, Allgaier, Sammy Smith and Creed followed suit with the field fanning out through the backstretch. Not long after, the caution quickly returned when Sammy Smith, who was bumped by Creed, clipped and sent Allgaier for a spin as both wrecked against the outside wall in Turn 3 while Brandon Jones, who was losing spots while restarting on old tires, spun sideways to avoid the carnage. In the midst of the carnage, Herbst, who gained one of his two lost laps during the second stage break period, was the recipient of the free pass to cycle back on the lead lap and potentially draw himself back into contention to still make the Playoffs.

During the proceeding restart with 97 laps remaining, Nemechek and Hill battled early for the lead past the restart zone as the field scattered and jostled for late positions through the first two turns and the backstretch. With Nemechek retaining the lead through the proceeding laps, Creed muscled his way up to second while Berry came out late to overtake Hill and move his No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro to third. By then, Kligerman cracked the top five as he was in fifth in front of Kraus while Retzlaff, Ryan Ellis, Grala and Jeb Burton were in the top 10. In the process, Nemechek retained the lead by more than a second with 90 laps remaining.

With 80 laps remaining, Nemechek extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Berry while Creed trailed in third place by more than four seconds. With Creed and Kligerman in the top five, Kraus, Retzlaff, Brandon Jones, Grala and Moffitt trailed in the top 10 while Herbst carved his way up to 12th. As Nemechek continued to extend his advantage to more than three seconds with 75 laps remaining, Herbst continued his march back to the front as he returned to the top 10 by moving up to 10th behind Grala.

A few laps later, however, Herbst’s late rally from his early issues evaporated after he was forced to pit under green due to a flat right-front tire with smoke coming out of his car amid a tire rub. Mired back multiple laps once again, Herbst found himself strapped in 29th place while Kligerman continued to run in fifth as he was now scored 30 points above the cutline and in position to claim the final Playoff spot. Meanwhile, Nemechek extended his advantage to more than six seconds over Berry.

With 63 laps remaining, the caution flew when Rajah Caruth was turned by Matt Mills and spun his No. 45 Circle Pay Chevrolet Camaro across the frontstretch grass and towards pit road before he looped his car straight and continued. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Nemechek peeled off the track to pit for service. Following the pit stops, Nemechek retained the lead after exiting first while Berry, Hill, Creed and Kligerman followed suit.

As the race restarted with 57 laps remaining, Nemechek rocketed away from the field to retain the lead while Hill and Berry battled for second. As Berry rocketed away from Hill during the following lap with Nemechek out in front, Brandon Jones overtook both Kligerman and Creed through the backstretch just before the caution returned when Caruth slid his car sideways through Turns 3 and 4.

When the race restarted with 50 laps remaining, Nemechek and Berry dueled for the lead through the frontstretch until Nemechek managed to muscle ahead with the lead entering the backstretch. Behind, Hill, Brandon Jones and Kligerman battled for third as Jones overtook both to move up to third before proceeding to catch teammate Berry for more. In the process, Hill and Kligerman kept battling for fourth place in front of Creed. Jones would then overtake teammate Berry for the runner-up spot with 47 laps remaining as he now set his sights on Nemechek for the lead and win to get into the Playoffs.

With 35 laps remaining, Nemechek was leading by more than a second over Brandon Jones while Hill moved his No. 21 Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Camaro up to third place in front of Berry and Kligerman. Behind, Moffitt was in sixth while Creed, Kraus, Jeb Burton and Grala were scored in the top 10.

Ten laps later, Nemechek stretched his advantage to more than three seconds over Brandon Jones while third-place Hill trailed by more than five seconds ahead of Berry and Kligerman. Nemechek would continue to extend his advantage to more than four seconds over Brandon Jones followed by Hill while Kligerman overtook Berry for fourth place with 20 laps remaining.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Nemechek stabilized his advantage to nearly six seconds over Brandon Jones while Hill, Kligerman and Creed were trailing behind in the top five and by more than nine seconds. By then, Berry fell back to sixth while Moffitt, Kraus, Grala and Joe Graf Jr. were mired in the top 10.

With five laps remaining, Nemechek continued to lead by more than six seconds over Brandon Jones as he continued to muscle away from the field while navigating his way through lapped traffic.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Nemechek remained as the leader by more than six seconds over Brandon Jones. With Jones too far back to mount a late charge, Nemechek, who continued to deal with lapped traffic, was able to cycle his way around the Kansas circuit for a final time smoothly and cross the finish line to claim his sixth checkered flag of the 2023 Xfinity season and by more than seven seconds over Jones.

With the victory, Nemechek scored his eighth career victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, his sixth of the season, his second at Kansas and the 10th of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing. In addition, Nemechek recorded the milestone 200th Xfinity career win for the Toyota nameplate. Despite falling short of claiming the Xfinity Series regular-season title to Austin Hill by a mere margin, Nemechek enters the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoffs with momentum and with the top seed with 2,049 points as he prepares to embark on his quest to win his first Xfinity title.

“I don’t if this [win] makes us the [championship] favorite or not, but super proud of this No. 20 team, Joe Gibbs Racing,” Nemechek said on NBC. “Man, it’s been a week. It’s been an exciting week, but I’m super pumped to get [the] Pye Barker Toyota GR Supra back in Victory Lane. [Crew chief] Ben [Beshore] and all the guys made the right adjustments all day. They brought a really fast hot rod. Overall, just super pumped, super ecstatic. I’m looking forward to getting in the Playoffs starting next weekend at Bristol [Motor Speedway]. We came in here today trying to get the regular-season championship. I said that we’re gonna have a 60-point day this weekend and that’s what we did. We controlled where we can control. We did everything that we could possibly do, so let’s get to the Playoffs. I’m ready.”

Brandon Jones rallied from his pair of on-track spins by settling in second place, which marks his highest-finishing result of the season, but was not able to gain enough ground to make the Playoffs for himself and the No. 9 JR Motorsports team.

Creed settled in third place followed by Parker Kligerman, who was able to clinch the 12th and final transfer spot into the Playoffs as both he and Big Machine Racing will make their inaugural presences in the Xfinity Series Playoffs as title contenders while seeded 12th in the Playoff standings with 2,002 points. With Kligerman in the Playoffs, Herbst, who came into Kansas a single point ahead of Kligerman, ended up dropping below the cutline amid his series of on-track issues and with a 23rd-place finish as he too missed the Playoffs.

Photo by Simon Scoggins for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“That’s a very satisfying feeling,” Kligerman said. “I was definitely the biggest John Hunter [Nemechek] fan that last run there, seeing [Brandon Jones] be so fast that last run. I’m really proud of this whole Big Machine Racing team. They brought a really good Spiked Light Coolers Chevy as we showed throughout this race. We executed at a high level and that’s what I’m seeing us do for the last 12 weeks. I felt like if we could just get in the Playoffs and we bring this going forward, we’re gonna go racing for a championship. What an honor to get the first Playoff berth for this race team. Overall, just a really solid day where we executed on a high level. If we can do that in the next eight weeks, we got a chance at this thing.”

“We just weren’t good enough today,” Herbst said. “I feel like we weren’t good enough, though, so that’s what’s frustrating. I just don’t think we executed on that restart [on Lap 64]. I don’t really know what happened. They all got stacked up. I don’t know if somebody missed a gear or spun the tires, but at that point, our day was kind of in a big hole. I feel like we can go now and try to win races. I don’t think we’re gonna quit working by any means and I think we’re gonna hopefully end up in Victory Lane by the year’s over.”

Finishing behind Kligerman on the track was Austin Hill, who was able to lock up the Xfinity Series regular-season championship over Nemechek. As a result, Hill, who was awarded an additional 15 Playoff bonus points, will be seeded in second place behind Nemechek in the Playoff standings with 2,039 points as he prepares to contend for his first Xfinity title.

“We just struggled all day with the balance of our Bennett Chevrolet,” Hill said. “We persevered, we dug deep. Not even sure how we finished in the top five there. Us getting the regular-season championship just shows that no matter how tough the battle is and how tough the uphill climb is, we never give up. We keep fighting. The guys did an awesome job on pit road on gaining me spots. That helped. We just had to go out there and just salvage what we could. Going into the Playoffs, we have a lot of work to do to catch up to [Nemechek]. He was class of the field today. We gotta be better come Bristol time.”

Berry, Moffitt, Derek Kraus, Joe Graf Jr. and Kaz Grala finished in the top 10 on the track.

John Hunter Nemechek, Austin Hill, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Sam Mayer, rookie Chandler Smith, Josh Berry, Sheldon Creed, rookie Sammy Smith, Jeb Burton, Daniel Hemric and Parker Kligerman have made the 2023 Xfinity Series Playoffs and will embark on a seven-race stretch to battle for this year’s Xfinity Series championship.

Riley Herbst, Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt, rookie Parker Retzlaff, Kaz Grala, Ryan Sieg, Jeremy Clements, Anthony Alfredo, Joe Graf Jr., Kyle Sieg, Josh Williams, Brennan Poole, Ryan Ellis and Blaine Perkins are among the rest of the competitors who missed the Playoffs.

There were seven lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 49 laps. In addition, 11 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. John Hunter Nemechek, 154 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

2. Brandon Jones, two laps led

3. Sheldon Creed

4. Parker Kligerman

5. Austin Hill

6. Josh Berry

7. Brett Moffitt

8. Derek Kraus

9. Joe Graf Jr.

10. Kaz Grala

11. Parker Retzlaff

12. Jeb Burton, one lap down

13. Josh Williams, one lap down

14. Connor Mosack, one lap down

15. Jeremy Clements, one lap down

16. Mason Massey, one lap down

17. Ryan Ellis, one lap down

18. Justin Allgaier, one lap down, 40 laps led

19. Matt Mills, two laps down

20. Kyle Sieg, two laps down

21. Dawson Cram, two laps down

22. CJ McLaughlin, two laps down

23. Riley Herbst, two laps down

24. Joey Gase, two laps down

25. Garrett Smithley, two laps down

26. Leland Honeyman, three laps down

27. Anthony Alfredo, three laps down

28. Brennan Poole, three laps down

29. Rajah Caruth, three laps down

30. Ryan Sieg, four laps down

31. Nick Leitz, six laps down

32. Chandler Smith, 14 laps down

33. Blaine Perkins – OUT, Brakes

34. Daniel Hemric, 80 laps down

35. Sammy Smith – OUT, Accident, one lap led

36. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident, three laps led

37. Sam Mayer – OUT, Accident

38. Kyle Weatherman – OUT, Accident

The 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set to commence next Friday, September 15, at Bristol Motor Speedway, with the event’s broadcast slated to occur at 7:30 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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