Nemechek wins in Las Vegas for 10th career victory

motorsport03 March 2024 04:48| © Reuters
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John Hunter Nemechek © Gallo Images

Chandler Smith won the battle. John Hunter Nemechek won the war.

The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates spent most of Saturday afternoon racing each other for the top spot in The LiUNA!, a 300-mile Nascar Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was Nemechek who proved superior in the long run.

After Smith won the first two stages of the race – the second with a deft last-lap pass of Nemechek's No 20 Toyota – Nemechek asserted his dominance.

By the time Nemechek crossed the finish line at the end of Lap 200, he held a 4.360-second lead over pole winner Cole Custer, who had charged into second place after a late cycle of green-flag pit stops.

"Hats off to all the guys on this 20 team for Joe Gibbs Racing," said Nemechek, who led a race-high 99 laps in securing his first victory of the season, his first at Las Vegas and the 10th of his career.

"Man, it's awesome to come out here and win in the Nascar Xfinity Series with a limited number of starts. Our goal is to come and win as many as we possibly could. Nothing else matters.

"Congrats to Tyler (Allen). He's the crew chief this year on the 20 car – his first win as a crew chief. Our spotter, Ryan Blanchard – his first win as well. ... Man, it feels so good to win here in Las Vegas. Got to rest for tomorrow., so I'm excited."

Now fulltime in the Nascar Cup Series with Legacy Motor Club, Nemechek will race in Sunday's Pennzoil 400.

Smith arguably had the best car in the race until he pitted with the rest of the field at the second stage break.

"We just over-adjusted a little bit," said Smith, who led 74 laps and finished third. "(We were) trying to stay ahead of the race track, and it feels actually like it might have gotten a little colder as well.

"It felt like the track definitely freed up, and we went in that same direction, thinking it was going to tighten up. So you live and you learn. ... We were pretty dominant and we just over-adjusted, but I'm happy that a Joe Gibbs Racing car still won."


Austin Hill, who triumphed in the first two races of the season, at Daytona and Atlanta, was fourth, with Riley Herbst finishing fifth after dominating the Las Vegas race last fall.

AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Sieg, Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier completed the top 10.

Hill retained his series lead by 22 points over Smith. Hailie Deegan was the top Sunoco rookie with a 15th-place finish.

For the second time in three races, ill fortune beset JR Motorsports' Sam Mayer, who completed just 22 of 120 laps in the season opener at Daytona.

Mayer was running 10th on Lap 8 on Saturday when the No 31 Chevrolet of fifth-place qualifier Parker Retzlaff turned sideways in front of him and slammed into the right side of Mayer's car, knocking him out of the race.

"It's just the year from hell," Mayer said. "Very frustrating and unfortunate and can't wait to get to Phoenix (for next Saturday's race)."

Another early casualty was New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, who took his Kaulig Racing Chevrolet behind the wall with overheating problems after completing 27 laps.

Van Gisbergen and Mayer finished 37th and 38th, respectively, in the 38-car field.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway

1. (12) John Hunter Nemechek(i), Toyota, 200

2. (1) Cole Custer, Ford, 200

3. (2) Chandler Smith, Toyota, 200

4. (5) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 200

5. (11) Riley Herbst, Ford, 200

6. (3) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 200

7. (6) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 200

8. (8) Sammy Smith, Chevrolet, 200

9. (13) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 200

10. (36) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200

11. (7) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 200

12. (10) Aric Almirola, Toyota, 200

13. (16) Corey Heim(i), Toyota, 200

14. (32) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 199

15. (28) Hailie Deegan #, Ford, 199

16. (37) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 199

17. (15) Jesse Love #, Chevrolet, 199

18. (19) Leland Honeyman #, Chevrolet, 199

19. (18) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 199

20. (27) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 199

21. (20) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 199

22. (23) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 199

23. (21) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 198

24. (22) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 198

25. (17) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 197

26. (9) Sheldon Creed, Toyota, 197

27. (31) Nick Leitz, Chevrolet, 197

28. (30) Patrick Emerling, Chevrolet, 196

29. (33) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 195

30. (38) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 195

31. (29) Blaine Perkins, Ford, 195

32. (24) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 195

33. (34) CJ McLaughlin, Ford, 194

34. (26) Dawson Cram #, Chevrolet, 192

35. (4) Parker Retzlaff, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 115

36. (35) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, Transmission, 104

37. (25) Shane Van Gisbergen #, Chevrolet, Engine, 27

38. (14) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, Accident, 7

Average Speed of Race Winner: 137.143 mph

Time of Race: 2 hours, 11 minutes, 15 seconds

Margin of Victory: 4.360 seconds

Caution Flags: 4 for 22 laps

LEAD CHANGES: 12 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders: C. Custer 0; C. Smith 1-49; A. Hill 50-55; J. Nemechek(i) 56-89; C. Smith 90-97; J. Nemechek(i) 98-99; C. Smith 100; J. Nemechek(i) 101-109; C. Smith 110-125; J. Nemechek(i) 126-168; J. Allgaier 169-179; J. Williams 180-189; J. Nemechek(i) 190-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): John Hunter Nemechek(i) 5 times for 99 laps; Chandler Smith 4 times for 74 laps; Justin Allgaier 1 time for 11 laps; Josh Williams 1 time for 10 laps; Austin Hill 1 time for 6 laps.

Stage No 1 Top 10: 81,20,21,98,00,16,7,48,39,9

Stage No 2 Top 10: 81,20,98,7,16,21,2,48,00,39