By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A quiet, but stellar performance by John Hunter Nemechek resulted in a third-place finish in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, but came up one spot short of bringing Chip Ganassi Racing the Owners’ Championship.
Nemechek showed strong pace all afternoon and into the night, with only Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, who was the guy to beat for the Owners’ title, owned the competition the opening 93 laps.
A known trademark of the 1.5-mile circuit is running the high-line, which Nemechek did but that also comes with a trademark wall stripe, which he also did twice in Stage 1. While Custer won the stage, the third-place starter ended up in fifth.
Stage 2 was an improvement as he muscled his way by Championship 4 contenders Christopher Bell and eventual series champion Tyler Reddick. Now running in second, Nemechek held onto to his spot with only Bell being his true threat. Although Bell got by him and stayed there for multiple laps, Nemechek later regained second position back, and crossed the line in that spot to end the stage.
Perhaps the first major shift into the 200-lap contest took place during pit stops on the 93rd lap, where his No. 42 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet Camaro got him out ahead of Custer and for the fourth straight race, Nemechek was in the lead. Not only he took the lead, he would lead for 52 consecutive laps, but more importantly, clean air proved pivotal as Custer couldn’t catch him and generally trailed him by over a second.
Nemechek would lose the lead to Custer on Lap 146, as he would come into the pits for four tires and fuel. Once the cycle of stops were completed, Nemechek was now in third, where he would stay there for the remainder of the race.
Custer’s team won the Owners’ title after finishing runner-up. As for Nemechek, who scored his sixth top-five of the season, with half of them taking place in the last four races, it was his final race at Ganassi.
In 18 starts, he was able to score his maiden Xfinity Series victory at Kansas Speedway Oct. 20, and only finished outside the top-15 twice. However, with Ross Chastain signed to run the No. 42 full-time in 2019, Nemechek is a free agent. With a performance like he had on Saturday, it’s a matter of time of which team will pick him up.