John Hunter Nemechek slipped on the famous Green Jacket in Victory Lane at Lebanon I-44 Speedway (MO) Saturday night and laughed as it was about two sizes too big on him. He adjusted the buttons and rolled the sleeves a little and finally looked at home in his unique trophy as he posed for the Victory Lane shots. And with each passing major victory Nemechek gets, one can't help but feel he belongs in a Green Jacket as much as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer ever has.
Nemechek's victory in the Mercy Masters of the Pros 144, the $8,000-to-win JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour race at Lebanon, was the latest on a long list of short track résumé-making accomplishments. In the previous season, Nemechek has won SpeedFest, the Howie Lettow, All American, and Snowball Derby. The win also keeps Nemechek a perfect 5-for-5 on the JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour and puts him into a tie for second on the all-time wins list.
Nemechek was practically picture perfect all weekend. Hunter Robbins set fast time over Nemechek in Boyne Machine qualifying, but otherwise Nemechek was untouchable. He paced practice on both Friday and Saturday. And he burned his way from 8th on the grid (after an invert) to second place in just forty laps.
Marlin led the entire first half of the race, but Nemechek took advantage of a caution on lap 73 to close the gap. He pressured Marlin so he could grab the lead going into the lap 100 break and procured the lead for the final lead change of the night on lap 94.
Nemechek's biggest allies in the end wound up being his competitors. He did not change tires at the halfway break but nor did any of the top-six drivers, providing enough of a cushion between him and any drivers coming on fresh tires. And, besides a Quinnton Bear crash right after the break restart, the race ran cleanly to the end. It ultimately allowed Nemechek to take the checkered a quarter-track ahead of local favorite Matt Wallace.
"We knew we had to be patient, but at the same time we needed to grab spots whenever we could," Nemechek said, explaining his early moves. "We just needed to race smart. It was a bit of a small crew. We made the decision to come out and run this pretty late. So it was just three guys and myself this weekend. "
Like all racers though, Nemechek isn't going to rest on his laurels. After a night of celebrating, there's the pursuit of winning the next race that will take his attention.
"There's still a couple big races coming up this fall we want to win. Winchester . Snowflake  and the Snowball again. And grab a Truck win too."
Wallace was proud to represent the local contingent in finishing a strong second. The next highest finishing track regular was Jake Griffin in 11th.
"This is my home track so I wanted to put on a good show for the fans," said Wallace. "I've definitely gotten the hang of this place. John Hunter did a great job; I know this was his first time here. It was a lot of fun racing for the win and getting to race guys like John and Sterling Marlin. I'm really proud of my guys."
Marlin said after the race that the car just got too tight as the race went on to hold off Nemechek. Robbins wound up finishing 4th with Chuck Barnes rounding out the top-five. ARCA Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski finished 6th in his first ever Pro Late Model go and Jack Smith wound up being the highest-finishing driver who took on fresh tires as he took 7th. Justin South, Bret Holmes, and Travis Braden closed out the top-ten.
|1||8N||John Hunter Nemechek||144|
|5||55||Chuck Barnes, Jr.||144|
-- Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn