John Hunter Nemechek took advantage of a pair of late-race wrecks that sidelined most of the top contenders to sail away to victory in Saturday’s Great Clips 250 Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the second Truck Series win of Nemechek’s career. The 19-year-old son of long-time NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek also won last year at Chicagoland Speedway.
Nemechek didn’t win so much as survive on Saturday, when a pair of wrecks took out several of the top trucks in the field and opened the way for him to win in his unsponsored No. 8 Chevrolet, thrilling his father who was sitting atop his pit box.
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"We made some great calls. There is a lot of experience on top of this pit box, and we’re having a great time doing it," Joe Nemechek told FOX Sports shortly after his son took the checkered flag. "… I just don’t know what to say. For a small team with very limited resources, we’re getting our stuff figured out."
The younger Nemechek credited his pit crew for putting him in position to win.
"I would say the pit crew won it for us today," the race winner said. "I can’t thank all those guys enough. They gained us, I think, 13 spots overall on pit road. … It’s an unsponsored truck, again. That’s two times in the winner’s circle for us."
Two-time series champion Matt Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota was the class of the field for the first 111 laps, of which he led 76.
But then Crafton got caught up in chaos on a restart with 18 laps to go. Christopher Bell was trying to make up for time he lost when he overshot his pit stall on the previous pit stop when he inadvertently clipped the left rear quarterpanel of Daniel Suarez’s truck, causing Suarez to get into Crafton. Both Crafton and Suarez went spinning, with Crafton hitting hard into the outside wall and Suarez smashing the inside retaining wall.
Both the trucks of Crafton and Suarez, who had been running 1-2 at the time of the incident, were completely destroyed in the process while Bell scooted through with minimal damage to his No. 4 Toyota.
The really bad news was that Bell and Suarez are teammates at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
"There is not a lot to say … Our teammate turned us around. I don’t know why," Suarez said after getting checked medically and cleared from the infield care center following the violent wreck.
With Crafton and Suarez out of the race, Bell soon was battling for the lead with Nemechek and Cameron Hayley. But after taking the lead from Nemechek on a sweet crossover move and beginning to pull away from the field, Bell appeared to lose a right-front tire, which sent him sailing hard into the outside wall to bring out yet another caution with seven laps to go.
That set up a dash to the finish with Nemechek, John Wes Townley and Hayley leading the field to green.
But Townley spun his tires on the final restart, opening the door for Nemechek to take the lead for good with three laps remaining.
Hayley ended up finishing a career-best second, with Timothy Peters, Daniel Hemric and Grant Enfinger rounding out the top five. Townley finished seventh, while Bell was credited with a 26th-place finish.
Crafton and Suarez finished 30th and 31st, respectively, in the 32-truck field after it looked like they would battle for the win.