CONCORD, N.C. – Using lessons gleaned from his boss, all-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner Kyle Busch, John Hunter Nemechek powered to victory Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Nemechek, who didn’t win either of the first two stages in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, took control during the second half of the race, leading 53 of the final 65 laps for his third win of the year.
The turning point of the 23-year-old’s night was on lap 70, when he sliced from the top to the far inside going down the backstretch, making a three-wide maneuver and wrestling the race lead away from Stewart Friesen.
Putting his left-side tires on the inside paint, Nemechek powered past Friesen and Christian Eckes to assume command, and never gave it up again aside from the final round of green-flag pit stops.
Once he cycled back to the top spot with 21 to go, Nemechek held off the advances of Austin Hill, and later Carson Hocevar, for his ninth career Truck Series triumph and first win at Charlotte.
“Hats off to all my guys, (crew chief) Eric Phillips, all my guys and everyone who works on this thing — everyone at KBM, the chassis shop, the fab shop … (owner) Kyle (Busch) for this opportunity,” said Nemechek, who crossed the finish line .419 seconds ahead of Hocevar. “I’m blessed to be in this spot.
“Hopefully, we can have some fun and celebrate tonight.”
Nemechek credited his pit crew for lifting him to Friday’s victory, considering they put together a pair of lightning-quick stops when he needed them most.
“My pit crew pretty much won the race tonight I feel like on pit road. We were able to jump some guys there after the first stage,” tipped Nemechek. “It was so hard to pass. It was amazing. Eric did a great job adjusting all night and I was telling him what we needed. He gave me the truck I needed to do this.”
After rising back to the lead following his last trip down pit road, Nemechek had to fend off the field on a 10-lap sprint to the finish because of a late-race caution flag which saw several trucks demolished.
The Toyota Tundra of Johnny Sauter was ripped to shreds on the passenger side after impacting the stalled truck of Trey Hutchens – who had blown a tire and hit the outside wall – entering the quad-oval.
While both drivers climbed out of their trucks uninjured, the melee with 19 laps left created a minefield of debris on the frontstretch that required a lengthy cleanup effort before racing could resume.
The crash also left Nemechek with roof damage, after a piece of flying debris impacted his truck in the incident.
Once the green flag finally waved again on lap 125, Nemechek got a huge push from Hocevar in turns one and two, allowing them to clear Austin Hill, who restarted second on the outside lane but quickly faded back.
From there, Hocevar gave a valiant effort to chase down Nemechek in the closing stages, but couldn’t quite get to the back bumper of the series point leader to challenge for his first career victory.
It was a stellar performance for the 18-year-old native of Portage, Mich., who narrowly avoided a stage-two crash between Sheldon Creed and Chase Purdy to keep himself in contention down the stretch.
“It wouldn’t be a race for Niece Motorsports and this (No.) 42 crew if we didn’t have some type of adversity, right?” joked Hocevar. “We had an issue with the right-front mid-race and had to come in and fix it … so that led us to play some strategy that got us in contention during the final stage.
“Being behind the 8-ball, we had to do something a little different to take advantage of track position … and we got it, and from there our stuff was good enough to hold it,” Hocevar added. “I think I needed about two more laps. It was close – I couldn’t quite get to the 4 (Nemechek). Just not close enough.”
Ben Rhodes was third for ThorSport Racing, which put three of its five entries inside the top 11, followed by Stewart Friesen and Circuit of The Americas winner Todd Gilliland.
Chandler Smith, Ty Majeski and Derek Kraus crossed sixth through eighth, respectively, while Hill was shuffled back to ninth after restarting on the front row late. Zane Smith closed the top 10.
GMS Racing teammates Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith split the first two stages, but neither were in contention late.
Creed was eliminated on lap 55 after being sucked around by Gilliland in turn three and then being pummeled by the Chevrolet of Chase Purdy as his truck slid down the banking. Smith copped a pit road penalty for a crew member going over the wall too soon at the second stage break and never recovered.
Meanwhile, Nemechek admitted that he’s disappointed his best truck will have to be repaired at the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop before it’s able to be used again in Truck Series competition because of the roof damage it sustained at the end of the race.
“This was our baby truck,” Nemechek tipped. “This one has won three races for me this year and, sadly, it’s going to have to get fixed now from that crazy crash. We got another win, though, and we’re happy about that.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series gets a week off before returning to action June 12 at Texas Motor Speedway.