A win in a Super Late Model has eluded John Hunter Nemechek to the point of frustration. On Sunday, the second-generation up and coming driver put that all in the rear view mirror by making a daring dive low to take the lead in a three-wide battle. The Mooresville, North Carolina driver then held off Derek Thorn and Dalton Sargeant on ensuing restarts with five laps to go to win his first Tom Dawson Trophy as the checkered flag waved on the 47th Annual Snowball Derby.
As Nemechek pulled his No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports machine into victory lane, the tears of joy began to fall.
“A little bit of emotion set in when we got the checkered flag and I climbed out and got to see all of my guys,” Nemechek told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Words can’t describe this right now. It’s amazing to even have your name in the history books with so many great drivers that have run this race over the years.”
Nemechek used the disappointment from a late race pass for the win for the second straight year in the Snowflake 100 the night before, as well as other runner-up performances to guide him to victory.
“I get frustrated with myself when I don’t win,” admitted Nemechek. “To me second-place isn’t good enough. We come here to win and that’s what we’re here to do. We dug deep and I knew that we had a very good car today. We just had to make the right adjustments, have good pit stops, and keep our nose clean, and that’s what we did. All that carried over into today and we made up for it.”
That Pro Late Model race originally scheduled for Saturday night concluded after 4 a.m. Sunday morning due to two lengthy rain delays, requiring drivers running in both events quite a quick turnaround for the Snowball Derby. Nemechek was so exhausted that he actually took a short nap during a red flag period, which was brought out by a fire igniting on Chad Finley's car, on lap 220 of the 300-lap Snowball Derby.
“I wish I wouldn’t have slept this morning,” said Nemechek. “I felt sick as a dog this morning and it wasn’t necessarily nerves at all. Just the fact that I was tired; I was shaking.”
Hunter Robbins claimed the pole on Friday evening and had a very competitive machine throughout the afternoon. The Alabama driver was able to keep up with Nemechek, but when a caution flew late in the race it came down to performances on pit road.
“When John Hunter got around us in lapped traffic we were able to get back to him,” said a dejected Robbins. “We thought it was going to be a pretty good race with both of us on really old tires giving it everything we had, and when that caution came out I knew we weren’t in that good shape. Our pit crew really struggled, and that’s kind of how it played out. These races like we had today don’t happen all the time and you’ve got to take advantage of the situation.”
The conclusion came down to a number of drivers going for their first Snowball Derby victory after 2012 winner Chase Elliott was sidelined with overheating issues and pit strategy. Contact did not work in two-time defending winner Erik Jones’ favor.
Dalton Sargeant shocked many with an incredible run to a second-place finish in only his second start at Five Flags Speedway and eighth Late Model race overall after spending much of his earlier teenage years in Europe.
“(We) came from the back and worked our way up slowly through the field and it really paid off in the end,” said an excited Sargeant. “That last pit stop we took four tires rather than two and it really helped us a lot. We spun the tires a few times, and that hurt us a bit on that final restart, but other than that a great job to the entire Wauters Motorsports team. I really just have to say thank you to all of them.”
Derek Thorn fought adversity all week since practice and made the journey from California well worth it.
“We were just never quite 100 percent, especially on the outside,” said the 2014 SRL Southwest Tour champion. “It’s been six months of preparation for this race and it boils down to a third place finish. It’s like the gates to Disneyland being opened, but only being able to go in the parking lot and ride. At the end of the day, it’s nothing to hold your head about.”
With help from the Campbell Motorsports team and Matt Crafton’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pit crew, the veteran driver is eager to return for the next running.
“I absolutely love it,” said Thorn about running the Snowball Derby. “To come here and race against the best pushes me, it pushes the team to make us better. I’m proud of these guys for what we did.”
For Nemechek, practice makes perfect and learning from his mistakes he says has made him a winning racer.
“The last few weeks we tested down here and went to Orange County Speedway (NC) and tested, and we probably did about 50 restarts combined at those tests. I’ve lost a couple races on restarts and have never really been good at them in a Super, so I was going to make sure I wasn’t going to lose the race if that’s what it came down to--and that’s what it came down to.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent - Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com(powered by 51's Third Turn)
| 1||3||8||John Hunter Nemechek||323||68|
| 2||25||5||Dalton Sargeant||323||0|
| 3||11||43||Derek Thorn||323||0|
| 4||1||18||Hunter Robbins||323||57|
| 5||29||90||Grant Enfinger||323||7|
| 6||20||51||Stephen Nasse||323||0|
| 7||26||99||Casey Smith||323||0|
| 8||4||112||Augie Grill||323||11|
| 9||35||29||Anderson Bowen||322||2|
| 10||18||31||Kyle Grissom||322||0|
| 11||14||29||Jeff Choquette||322||0|
| 12||37||2R||Clay Rogers||322||0|
| 13||23||07||Corey LaJoie||321||0|
| 14||5||83||Scotty Ellis||321||7|
| 15||30||10||Steve Dorer||321||0|
| 16||26||9K||Mark Kraus||321||0|
| 17||2||21||Johanna Long||321||59|
| 18||34||57||Cole Timm||320||0|
| 19||32||91||Ty Majeski||320||0|
| 20||21||37||Brian Hoar||320||0|
| 21||36||11||David Rogers||318||0|
| 22||19||26||Preston Peltier||317||0|
| 23||17||2W||Donnie Wilson||316||0|
| 24||8||98||Daniel Hemric||314||50|
| 25||24||11||Logan Boyett||314||0|
| 26||31||88||Garrett Jones||310||0|
| 27||10||51J||Erik Jones||305||18|
| 28||28||42P||Dennis Prunty||255||0|
| 29||12||9||Chase Elliott||229||44|
| 30||15||26||Bubba Pollard||219||0|
| 31||13||42||Chad Finley||218||0|
| 32||22||2||D.J. Vanderley||208||0|
| 33||33||4||Kyle Plott||196||0|
| 34||7||95||Derrick Griffin||107||0|
| 35||5||3||Ross Kenseth||64||0|
| 36||16||41||T.J. Reaid||16||0|
| 37||9||1||Mike Garvey||15||0|