By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – John Hunter Nemechek completed the first back-to-back victory effort of his career convincingly winning Saturday’s Ambetter Health 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to answer a big victory last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway too.
Nemechek held off rookie Chandler Smith by .424-second on an overtime restart, leading a race best 137 laps in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and becoming the winningest driver in the series this season with four victories – upping his career total to six. The 26-year old second-generation NASCAR star Nemechek now leads the championship run by 33-points over Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Hill, a three-time race winner in 2023 and the third place finisher on Saturday.
“They’ve had dominant JGR Supras the last couple years and I had to hold up my end of the bargain,’’ said a smiling Nemechek, who at one point led the field by more than 4-seconds.
“It’s nerve-wracking for sure [the final restart], so I’m so proud of this No. 20 team and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing,’’ Nemechek added, “I think our first clean race of the year and hats off to all our guys.
“I love coming up here and shout out to a driver who is one of the masters up here,’’ he said with a smile, conceding “The Master” was tomorrow’s NASCAR Cup Series polesitter and JGR teammate Christopher Bell.
“I was a little worried there with the last restarts. We kept getting really good launches and were able to clear them but I didn’t know who was saving what. I was trying to save for Cole [Custer], he really pushed us there.”
The runner-up finisher Smith, who earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series pole position on Friday for this race, led only the first lap but stayed in contention and kept the front pack honest throughout the day. Unfortunately for the 21-year old Kaulig Racing driver, there was a malfunction with his cool suit on the steamy summer New England afternoon and he was treated with IVs at the care center following the race, but reported in good shape overall.
The race on the 1.058-mile oval included 10 caution periods – the last forcing an overtime finish. Nemechek had just rolled under the white flag – signaling the last lap – when a pair of his closest challengers on the day – Cole Custer and Sheldon Creed – crashed behind him dueling for third place. The incident ended the race.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Custer – the youngest winner in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history when he won at New Hampshire in 2014 at the age of 16 – collided with RCR driver Creed while vying for third place. Custer, a two-time winner this season, had run among the Top-3 for much of the race. Creed is still racing for his first victory of the season.
Behind Nemechek, Smith and Hill, Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric and JGR rookie driver Sammy Smith rounded out the Top-5. Smith earned his first career Stage win, taking the Stage 2 flag and leading 18 laps on the day.
JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier finished sixth after leading 27 laps early in the race and winning Stage 1; tying him with Nemechek for most stage wins (five) on the season.
Jeb Burton, who won earlier in the season at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway finished seventh, followed by Josh Williams, the owner-driver collecting the 11th Top-10 finish of his career and the first back-to-back Top-10s of the season. Brett Moffitt and Mason Massey rounded out the New Hampshire Top-10. It marked Massey’s first Top-10 of 2023 as well.
Parker Kligerman, a New Englander and fan favorite, was collected in a 12-car accident during a restart only 71 laps into the event and had to settle for a 31st place finish. He came into the race ranked 13th, only six points out of 12th with the Top-12 ranked drivers becoming Playoff eligible. And despite being in the multi-car accident, the race claimed enough caution casualties that Kligerman leaves his “hometown” track now ranked 12th – 16 points up on 13th place Burton.
As for Nemechek, he is currently riding a massive streak of career accomplishment.
“Now it’s time to keep clicking off these victories,’’ Nemechek said.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to action next Saturday with the Pocono 225 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (5:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Noah Gragson – now a rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series – is the defending Xfinity Series race winner.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Ambetter Health 200
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Saturday, July 15, 2023
1. (2) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 206.
2. (1) Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, 206.
3. (8) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 206.
4. (11) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 206.
5. (7) Sammy Smith #, Toyota, 206.
6. (4) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 206.
7. (20) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 206.
8. (22) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 206.
9. (12) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 206.
10. (33) Mason Massey, Ford, 206.
11. (5) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 206.
12. (21) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 206.
13. (38) Kaz Grala, Toyota, 206.
14. (28) Patrick Emerling, Chevrolet, 206.
15. (16) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 206.
16. (9) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 206.
17. (3) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 206.
18. (10) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 206.
19. (29) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 206.
20. (14) Riley Herbst, Ford, 206.
21. (17) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 205.
22. (6) Cole Custer, Ford, 205.
23. (26) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 205.
24. (24) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 204.
25. (32) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, 203.
26. (25) Connor Mosack, Toyota, 203.
27. (23) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 202.
28. (35) CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 201.
29. (19) Joe Graf Jr., Toyota, Accident, 196.
30. (31) Chris Hacker(i), Ford, 195.
31. (13) Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, Accident, 190.
32. (15) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, Accident, 70.
33. (37) Ryan Sieg, Ford, Accident, 70.
34. (18) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, Accident, 70.
35. (34) Chad Finchum, Ford, Suspension, 60.
36. (30) Stefan Parsons, Chevrolet, Suspension, 48.
37. (27) Rajah Caruth(i), Chevrolet, Oil Line, 47.
38. (36) Greg Van Alst, Chevrolet, Brakes, 17.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 82.417 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 38 Mins, 40 Secs. Margin of Victory: Under Caution Seconds.
Caution Flags: 10 for 60 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Smith # 1;J. Allgaier 2-8;J. Nemechek 9-26;J. Allgaier 27-46;C. Smith # 47-54;J. Nemechek 55-86;P. Retzlaff # 87-88;S. Smith # 89-106;J. Nemechek 107-150;C. Smith # 151;J. Graf Jr. 152-158;A. Dillon(i) 159-162;J. Graf Jr. 163;J. Nemechek 164-206.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): John Hunter Nemechek 4 times for 137 laps; Justin Allgaier 2 times for 27 laps; Sammy Smith # 1 time for 18 laps; Chandler Smith # 3 times for 10 laps; Joe Graf Jr. 2 times for 8 laps; Austin Dillon(i) 1 time for 4 laps; Parker Retzlaff # 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 7,20,00,16,8,9,10,1,11,21
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,31,2,9,92,7,19,20,10,16