John Hunter Nemechek came into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park still on a high from his CRA Pro Late Model Series win in Milwaukee and carrying the momentum of his SWM-NEMCO team who, with his father Joe Nemechek, captured a third-place result in the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway the same weekend.
Having never set foot on the grounds of Gateway Motorsports Park, the central focus of the young Nemechek, who turned 17 on Wednesday, was getting seat time and learning the track.
With the first practice session underway, Nemechek rolled his MD Anderson Cancer Center Toyota onto the track and as he sailed it into turn one for the first lap, the truck broke loose and spun into the outside wall.
“Well, I guess I should have lifted a little sooner,” Nemechek quipped while surveying the damage on his Tundra. “It’s not too bad – we’ll get back out there and just make laps and learn from it.”
Learn from it he did. Nemechek posted the ninth-fastest time overall in practice, and the next day, made it through to the final round of qualifying.
Nemechek rolled off the grid in the 12th position for the start of the Drivin’ for Linemen 200 and was quickly on the move. The first caution flew at lap three and Nemechek had already made his way into the eighth position and radioed that the truck was “coming to him.”
Back under green, Nemechek continued to impress as he raced into the top five by lap 10 of the 160-lap event. With green flag pit stops commencing at lap 58, Nemechek had been jockeying positions among the top seven and inherited the lead on lap 64. A fortunate caution flew amid green flag pit stops allowing Nemechek the benefit of pitting under caution. Reporting a combination condition of loose and tight, Nemechek pitted for tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments and would restart in the second position.
Back underway, Nemechek was looking sporty as he raced among the veterans of the series. At lap 78, he raced his way back into the lead and fought off the likes of Matt Crafton and Erik Jones to lead 44 laps in that segment. He returned to the lead briefly from lap 129-133 as well.
As the laps wore on, Nemechek remained a strong presence and it appeared as though he would come home with at least a top three – but in the closing laps, those hopes were dashed. A lap after the 77 truck of German Quiroga made contact with the No. 8 truck; Nemechek’s left rear went flat and sent him spinning into the wall. Suffering significant damage but able to return to the track, he finished the race in the 15th position leading a total of 53 laps and impressing many in the sport.
“I can’t say enough about everyone who supports this program,” Nemechek said. “I have to thank Sid and Dawna Mauldin for their support and I just take my hat off to everyone for all their hard work. The pit crew did an awesome job tonight and from the feedback side to the adjustments that were made – all of our communication got better tonight. We took a 10th place truck and turned it into a top-three truck and led forever there. It was a learning night for sure. It didn’t work out for us, but it was still a good night overall.
“It was definitely a disappointment but you have to look at it from the positive side and know that – I think everybody knew we here and I think we turned a lot of heads tonight,” Nemechek continued. “ We gained a lot of positive experience so I guess we go to the next one and for me that’s Iowa. This actually gives me more drive to go kick butt and lead laps and finish top three and win. Our goal coming into tonight was to finish top five. We didn’t do that but I wasn’t expecting to lead any laps either. We led a lot of laps there and it’s just awesome to have that feeling and get this under our belts. The next time it won’t be something so new and we can just keep moving forward.”
Before John Hunter Nemechek climbs behind the wheel of the No. 8 Tundra in Iowa on July 11, Joe Nemechek will suit up for the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway on June, 26. Live television coverage begins at 8:00pm ET on Fox Sports 1 while PRN and SiriusXM Radio will carry the live radio broadcast.
Stay current with both Nemecheks by following them on Twitter: @JohnNemechek and @FrontRowJoe87. Websites: www.johnhunternemechek.com and www.joenemechek.com.
– Photo credit: Phil Cavali