NASCAR Trucks: John Hunter Nemechek steals the CRC Brakleen 150 at Pocono Raceway

John Hunter Nemechek passed his boss, Kyle Busch, with six laps to go to steal the win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series CRC Brakleen 150 at Pocono Raceway.

“I matched [Kyle’s] restart in the box pretty well, and the No. 2 didn’t quite get to his bumper as fast as I thought he would,” Nemechek said. “The outside lane was dominant here today on restarts so for me it was getting the best launch I could and to keep the No. 38 behind me”.

Busch started the race from the 22nd position based on NASCAR’s new formula, and made it all the way up to third place by the end of the first stage. He pit before the end of stage two for track position, and cycled to the lead on the restart to begin stage three. Busch led 20 laps up through a caution with nine laps to go involving the No. 52 truck of Stewart Friesen.

Nemecheck took the lead on a restart with six laps to go, forcing Busch to battle with Sheldon Creed for third place. Busch and Creed made contact in turn two with four laps to go, putting both drivers too far back to have a chance at victory.

“I was hoping I could have a shot to be able to go back and fight back after [Nemechek], but then I got drilled by [Creed],” Busch said. “Good day for KBM, 1-2, we had fast tundras”.

Creed believes that his decision to split up the KBM trucks on the restart may have backfired, resulting in the contact between him and Busch down the stretch.

“I thought splitting [Busch and Nemechek] up would be good,” Creed said. “I didn’t know if I could trust Preece or not, I should’ve trusted him [though]. The Cup guys race so much better and they actually help each other, so I should’ve just trusted him”.

After getting off to a rough start this season, Tyler Ankrum finally got things to click with his third top-5 of 2021. Ankrum was able to overcome an early speeding penalty to register a 33-point day.

“It wasn’t my fastest truck, but we had a good handling truck,” Ankrum said. “Didn’t have anything there for the KBM trucks or [Creed], in clean air, I just had no speed”.

Ankrum sits 13th in points, just three spots outside the 10-man playoff grid. He was able to gain ground on 12th place driver Johnny Sauter, as he wrecked on the first lap of the race and placed 35th. Sauter’s crash with Jack Wood was just one of two natural cautions all race.

With just two races until the end of the regular season, Nemechek leads the points standings by nearly 100 points. Only four drivers competing for Truck Series points have won races in 2021, the others being Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland, and Creed.

The NASCAR Truck Series returns to action on Friday, July 9 at Knoxville Speedway for a dirt race. They’ll return to pavement August 7 for the regular series finale at Watkins Glen.

Full results:

Standings:

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Five stories to watch

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series gets underway on Friday night in Daytona. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming season.

The 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck makes its return on Friday night, as Daytona International Speedway will host the NextEra Energy 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

ESM has five things you need to know about the 2021 circuit…

Young Sheldon

Known for his exploits on short tracks, 23-year-old Sheldon Creed rose to the occasion in the playoffs, ruining the party for seasonal favorites like teammates Zane Smith and Brett Moffitt. Creed, driver of the driving the No. 2 Chevrolet Silverado for GMS Racing, finished no worse than 12th in any of the seven postseason events, coming home in the first couple in four of them. His trademark aggressiveness from his ARCA days, which included the 2018 championship, wore thin during his first year in Trucks, but he cleaned up his style to take home another championship. He’ll seek to become the series’ first repeat champion since fellow finalist Matt Crafton (2013-14).

Having worked with GMS since 2018, Creed is an elder statesman of sorts with the organization that has placed a driver in the top three of the standings in every year since 2016. GMS will also welcome back Smith in the No. 21 and Tyler Ankrum in the No. 26. Raphael Lessard, the first French Canadian winner of a NASCAR national series event at Talladega last fall, joins the No. 24 truck, while rookie Chase Purdy takes over the 23 from Moffitt, the 2018 Truck champion who will drive for Niece Motorsports this season.

KB’s Boys

To the naked eye, Kyle Busch Motorsports enjoyed another successful season. The team won five races (including three from Busch himself) but the team failed to place a car in the top three of the final standings for the second straight year. That seems like heavy expectations, but they did so in each of the previous five seasons.

Busch’s Toyota Tundras appear set to return with a vengeance with a new full-time lineup. Fresh off a full season in the Cup Series, John Hunter Nemechek will take over the No. 4 from Lessard. The son of NASCAR staple “Front Row Joe”, Nemechek has eight Truck Series wins under his belt and earned 15 finishes in the top 20 in mid-tier equipment at Front Row Motorsports on the Cup circuit. Chandler Smith will join the full-time circuit in the No. 18 after displaying major promise over parts of two seasons. Smith earned a runner-up posting in his third career  Trucks event in 2019 and he would earn top fives in all but one of his final six races last season. Busch and Joe Gibbs project Brandon Jones are set to share the No. 51 Tundra with names to be determined.

Hailie’s Comet 

The Truck Series has seen its share of regular female drivers, including Jennifer Jo Cobb (who has run her race team for over a decade) and Natalie Decker (fifth-place finisher in last year’s Daytona opener). But there has been a fair amount of hype behind the 19-year-old Deegan, who will make her full-time Truck Series debut in a Ford F-150 owned by NASCAR veteran David Gilliland.

Deegan has had her share of ignominious moments away from the track, but there is no denying her talent on it. She earned three victories over two years in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West and placed third in the regular ARCA standings in 2020, earning Rookie of the Year honors (17 top ten finishes in 20 races) and a third-place finish in the standings. The daughter of former X Games star Brian Deegan made her Trucks debut last fall at Kansas, coming in at a respectable 16th in her first race. She will compete for Rookie of the Year honors against Smith, Purdy, Carson Hocevar, and Kris Wright.

Green Flags and Sam

Unfortunately for 17-year-old Sam Mayer, his first R-rated movie in the theater was erased due to the ongoing health crisis. But it’s safe to say that he picked up a far more attractive consolation prize in the Camping World Truck Series.

Mayer not only won 11 races on the various levels of ARCA last season, but took the Truck Series by storm in GMS equipment. Three races after earning his first career top five at Gateway, Mayer took home the win at Bristol in August. He’ll return to the circuit this year with Henderson Motorsports, sharing the No. 75 Silverado with Parker Kligerman. Mayer will also run a part-time Xfinity Series slate with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race team, which will become a full-time ride in 2022.

Austin’s Powers

Kevin Harvick’s dominant run for naught at the Cup level wasn’t the only jaw-dropping season rendered null-and-void by the playoffs last season. Austin Hill, fresh off the momentum of winning three of the final eight races in 2019, finished no worse than 12th in all but one of the first 16 races of last season. However, engine woes at the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville kept him on the outside of the final four going into Phoenix, relegating him to a sixth-place finish the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota. It’ll also be interesting to see if his Xfinity Series output increases in HRE’s No. 61, as he earned his first career top five in the car at Kansas last season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

NASCAR: Five underdogs who could steal Talladega

This Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series will visit Talladega on the first day of summer. Is there a red hot upset in the making?

This weekend, Talladega Superspeedway’s 2.66-mile course will feature mischief and mayhem…and 5,000 of its closest friends will be there to witness it.

The NASCAR Cup Series will welcome back a select number of fans to the track as the GEICO 500 will run 188 circuits on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, Fox). Talladega is one of several “superspeedways” on the NASCAR schedule and its longest track, one that has been known for big pile-ups and close racing. While Sunday’s race will feature a new technical rules package (one created to avoid scary wrecks like the one involving Ryan Newman at the end of the Daytona 500), Talladega’s penchant for tight racing (similar to Daytona) has often seen upset winners steal the show. Winners of NASCAR races are more or less afforded a spot in the NASCAR playoffs, provided they finish in the top 30 in points.

The Cup Series’ usual suspects (I.e. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, etc.) will undoubtedly be in play for GEICO glory. But there could be several underdogs on hand ready to seize their postseason moment…

Austin Dillon

To say it has been an eventful two weeks for Dillon would perhaps be the understatement of the year. He was forced to retire from last Wednesday’s Martinsville race early when the loss of crush panels in his car caused the interior to reach sweltering temperatures. Four days later, he and his wife Whitney welcomed their first child (a son named Ace) before he drove the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a seventh-place finish. It’s been part of a solid return to the track for Dillon, who (the Martinsville incident aside) has finished no worse than 11th over the last five races. Such a performance has allowed Dillon to enter Talladega holding the final playoff spot. Ending his win drought at 83 races would certainly help him breathe a lot easier, that last win coming at the 2018 Daytona 500.

Brendan Gaughan

Gaughan has run one full-time Cup Series season (2004) but has kept active on NASCAR’s lower-tier national series. He has been a staple in the part-time car of Beard Motorsports, having run each Cup event at a superspeedway since 2017. The No. 62 Chevrolet has been reasonably competitive in such races, as Gaughan came home seventh in February’s Daytona 500. Last fall, he ran up front all day, posting as high as second at Talladega (after finishing eighth in the spring event) but an aerial wreck relegated him to 27th. Gaughan announced in February that 2020 would be his final NASCAR season. Could he earn an early retirement gift in his penultimate Talladega visit? As a part-time driver with no playoff burden, Gaughn will have zilch to lose on Sunday.

John Hunter Nemechek

The rookie Nemechek (second behind Tyler Reddick in the Rookie of the Year race) has remained competitive in his full-time Cup debut. His No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford has been running at the end of each of the first dozen events in 2020 and Nemechek has completed all but 12 laps on the circuit thus far. Nemechek also finished in the top ten in a pair of Xfinity starts at Talladega, including a sixth-place result last season. A Talladega steal from the mid-budget Front Row squad is not unheard of. The first win in team history came in 2013 when David Ragan and David Gilliland swept the first two slots in an overtime finish at the spring race.

Ryan Newman

It’s great to see Newman back in his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford after the scary incident at the end of the Daytona 500, but his return has been a bit of a struggle thus far. He has yet to finish in the top ten since his return and an early spin at Homestead long to a long day that ended in 30th. But a Newman victory at Talladega would make for an incredible headline. In addition to his last-lap crash in February, Newman was literal inches away from a victory at last October’s Talladega event, but he lost to Ryan Blaney by .007 seconds. If he’s going to race his way into the playoffs, Newman would have to break a 113-race winless streak. Talladega could present his best opportunity. In five events since October 2017, Newman has earned four top ten finishes, including a pair of runner-up postings.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Mired in a 21st-place hole in the standings, it may be a lot to ask Stenhouse to make up a 63-point playoff deficit, even with the regular season running through late August. Stenhouse has often gone the “wreckers or checkers” route at Daytona and Talladega. Back in 2017, he was able to swipe a playoff spot by winning at both tracks, including his first career victory at the latter, when he started on the pole and held off a furious challenge from Jamie McMurray for the win. If he and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty team have playoff aspirations, they might have to go all out on Sunday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

NASCAR: Two Young Guns Flying Under The Radar to Become New Stars

NASCAR, Tyler Reddick

As Jimmie Johnson prepares to join former Hendrick teammates, Dale Jr., and Jeff Gordon, in retirement, another star leaves the sport. NASCAR built its fan base around those 3 among other stars.

As every sport does, NASCAR is seeing new stars emerge as faces of the sport. Veterans like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and other stars continue to lead the way. Along with younger guys like Chase Elliot, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, among others, taking over the limelight, more stars continue to emerge. As NASCAR undergoes a landscape shift in terms of star power, two young drivers have had a strong start to their careers.

Tyler Reddick

Tyler Reddick was an up and coming driver when JR Motorsports tapped him to take over for William Byron. Reddick won the season opener at Daytona in the closest finish in the history of NASCAR.

Although he didn’t win again until the final race of the season, his consistency allowed him to remain in contention. He then pulled off an upset and won his 1st Xfinity title in his rookie season.  Reddick then made the surprising move to jump ship to Richard Childress Racing. The move was made to speed up the process to the Cup Series in Reddick’s eyes. In 2019, Reddick dominated the series. With six wins, he, Christopher Bell, and Cole Custer shined above the rest.

When Homestead came, Reddick shined again. He won his 2nd title in 2 years in the series. This was the end of his Xfinity career. He took over Daniel Hemric’s ride in the 8 machine. He’s already flashed his skill with solid performances, including a 7th place finish in Darlington and an 8th place finish in the Coke 600. Reddick is a guy who has been labeled by some as a future star, and he could jump from RCR if Hendrick or Stewart-Haas targets him. Reddick has a bright future and is one to watch.

John Hunter Nemechek

The Front Row Motorsports machines tend to struggle to maintain a competitive machine. More often than not, a top 15 finish for them is a good day. Their newest addition, 22-year-old John Hunter Nemechek, has the potential to change that.

In his Truck Series career, in 101 races, Nemechek had 6 wins and 50 Top Tens. Nearly half of the races Nemechek ran, he was in the top 10. In the Xfinity Series, Nemechek raced in 51 races with 1 win and 30 Top Tens. Nemechek has been the picture of consistency in his career to this point. Now at 22, he has been impressive in the 38 machine.

He’s brought the machine towards the front with good runs. He’s had 1 Top Ten in 9 races and an average finish of 19th. That may seem low, but prior to this season, David Ragan never drove the 38 machine to a higher average finish than 22.9. Nemechek has the potential to vault himself into a premier car at some point if he can continue to be consistent.