(Photo credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
FORT WORTH, Texas -- John Hunter Nemechek made the winning pass with seven laps remaining in Saturday's Andy's Frozen Custard 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway to punch his ticket to the next round of the series Playoffs and increase his series-best and career-best single seasontotal to seven victories.
His No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led only 38 of the day's 200 laps, but managed to get around Big Machine Racing's Parker Kligerman and race off to a 1.005-second victory -- his second at the 1.5-mile Texas track.
The winning move came after Kligerman and the day's most dominant driver, Justin Allgaier dueled side-by-side at the front of the field. Allgaier, who swept both stage victories and led a race best 133 laps, got loose in a door-to-door battle for the race lead with Kligerman and drifted up track following a restart with 10 laps remaining. Kligerman pushed forward but was unable to hold off Nemechek.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Sammy Smith finished third followed by Kaulig Racing's Chandler Smith. Allgaier recovered from the tight racing with Kligerman to finish fifth. The top eight finishing drivers at Texas -- also including Cole Custer, Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed -- are all Playoff contenders.
"I messed up that restart, but I knew I had to push hard and try to recover right there and man, hats off to this team, Joe Gibbs Racing, it's been amazing what we've been able to accomplish this year and we're not done yet," said Nemechek, 26.
"We're preparing for the Round of 8," he continued. "My goal coming into today was to lock ourselves into the next round. Our road courses haven't been that great for myself. Joe Gibbs as an organization has been really good on road courses. But going into the (Charlotte) ROVAL and hot having to worry about that is definitely a relief."
Kligerman, who is racing in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, was hugely disappointed on pit road despite tying a career best runner-up effort (also at Road America this summer) in the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet. His work at Texas brought him to within a single point of the eight drivers who can advance to the next Playoff round following the Oct. 7 Charlotte ROVAL race -- the elimination event of this round.
"Had a great run, got to him (Allgaier) and I don't know how much we got squeezed or didn't. I thought I could clear him super easily, but I got super loose," he said. "Feels like I got choked, he says he gave a lot of room. I'll have to look at it.'
"I'm really disappointed right now," Kligerman added. "I could see that one, I could feel it. That was the best restart I've ever had in my life, put us in perfect position and had the tire advantage, just choked. This one will hurt, but we'll go make up for it next weekend."
For his part, Allgaier was equally as disappointed and frustrated. He approached Kligerman on pit road after the race to discuss the close racing and fallout from it. He had battled from the back after being squeezed out of the lead pack earlier in the race by Chandler Smith which forced him to take his last set of fresh tires earlier than his competitors. Nemechek and Kligerman were able to take new tires on their last stop during a caution with 20 laps remaining while Allgaier's tires had 11 laps on them at that point and stayed out -- in the lead -- during that final caution.
Kligerman and Nemechek made their way back toward Allgaier quickly on their fresh tires with Kligerman pulling forward to try and make the winning move in the final 10 laps.
"At that point, obviously we had a really fast Camaro all day," said Allgaier, who already advanced to the next Playoff round by winning the Playoff opener at Bristol, Tenn. last week.
"We put ourselves in good position. That last caution kind of hurt us because we didn't have tires, but still thought we'd do a good job.
"Parker, when I went and I talked to him, said I squeezed him. I felt like I left him plenty of room there knowing he'd go to the bottom and he drove it in super, super deep into (turn) three. And he's been around the sport long enough to know what's going to happen. Just disappointed. Not only did it mess up battling for second it put us way up in the marbles."
With a season-high 12 caution periods on Saturday, there was plenty of drama. Only 17 cars in the 38-car field managed to avoid any kind of accident involvement. And by mid-race, half of the 12-driver Playoff field had dealt with some incident.
JR Motorsports' driver Sam Mayer, a two-time race winner this season and Playoff contender hit the wall on the opening lap doing enough damage to his No. 1 JRM Chevrolet he couldn't continue and suffered a last place finish (38th).
He started the Texas race ranked 10th only 14 points behind Sheldon Creed in the final cutoff position -- but left the Lone Star State ranked last among the Playoff competitors, 34 points back and essentially needing a walk-off victory in the next Playoff race at the Charlotte ROVAL.
"We're going to have to make something happen," Mayer said, "our backs are up against the wall."
With one race remaining in this opening Playoff round, Nemechek and Allgaier have automatically secured their next round positions as has Custer, who clinched Saturday by virtue on points earned. The regular season champion Hill holds a 44-point edge on the Playoff elimnation line. Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith are 32 and 18 points to the good, respectively. Creed takes a nine-point edge to the good into the Charlotte ROVAL race. Daniel Hemric -- who finished 24th Saturday -- holds a tenuous single-point edge over Kligerman, who is in the ninth position.
Jeb Burton (-19), Josh Berry (-27) and Mayer (-34) are behind Kligerman -- all three involved in incidents at Texas.
Up next is the Oct. 7 Drive for the Cure 250 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina at the Charlotte ROVAL (3 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) -- the final Playoff race of this round.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race -- Andy's Frozen Custard 300
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, Texas
Saturday, September 23, 2023
1. (11) John Hunter Nemechek (P), Toyota, 200.
2. (7) Parker Kligerman (P), Chevrolet, 200.
3. (15) Sammy Smith (P), Toyota, 200.
4. (9) Chandler Smith (P), Chevrolet, 200.
5. (1) Justin Allgaier (P), Chevrolet, 200.
6. (3) Cole Custer (P), Ford, 200.
7. (5) Austin Hill (P), Chevrolet, 200.
8. (24) Sheldon Creed (P), Chevrolet, 200.
9. (8) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 200.
10. (22) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 200.
11. (17) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 200.
12. (19) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 200.
13. (30) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 200.
14. (33) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 200.
15. (12) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 200.
16. (36) Parker Chase, Toyota, 199.
17. (26) Daniel Dye(i), Chevrolet, 199.
18. (14) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 199.
19. (38) Layne Riggs, Chevrolet, 198.
20. (23) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 198.
21. (25) Dawson Cram, Chevrolet, 198.
22. (32) David Starr, Chevrolet, 197.
23. (20) Sage Karam, Ford, 197.
24. (13) Daniel Hemric (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 195.
25. (37) CJ McLaughlin, Ford, 195.
26. (27) Joey Gase, Toyota, 194.
27. (4) Josh Berry (P), Chevrolet, 193.
28. (31) JJ Yeley, Ford, Accident, 183.
29. (16) Kaz Grala, Toyota, Accident, 183.
30. (18) Parker Retzlaff , Chevrolet, Accident, 108.
31. (28) Jeb Burton (P), Chevrolet, Suspension, 108.
32. (34) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 106.
33. (2) Trevor Bayne (P), Toyota, Accident, 97.
34. (21) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, Accident, 55.
35. (29) Patrick Emerling, Chevrolet, Suspension, 24.
36. (35) Joe Graf Jr., Ford, DVP, 11.
37. (10) Riley Herbst, Ford, Accident, 2.
38. (6) Sam Mayer (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 0.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 107.153 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 47 Mins, 59 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.005 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 12 for 65 laps.
Lead Changes: 9 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Allgaier (P) 1-52;C. Custer (P) 53-63;J. Allgaier (P) 64-97;C. Custer (P) 98-104;J. Allgaier (P) 105-114;C. Custer (P) 115-124;J. Nemechek (P) 125-155;J. Allgaier (P) 156-192;P. Kligerman (P) 193;J. Nemechek (P) 194-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Justin Allgaier (P) 4 times for 133 laps; John Hunter Nemechek (P) 2 times for 38 laps; Cole Custer (P) 3 times for 28 laps; Parker Kligerman (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage 1 Top Ten: 7,21,00,19,20,9,48,8,18,16
Stage 2 Top Ten: 7,00,21,20,19,8,16,48,9,18
--By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media