Despite late spin, plenty for Nemechek to build on
June 15, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
Recently turned 17-year-old leads first career laps in Truck Series
MORE: Full race results
MADISON, Ill. -- John Hunter Nemechek celebrated his 17th birthday on Wednesday, and for awhile it looked like he was going to celebrate in Victory Lane after the Drivin' for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.
But a spinout on Lap 146 of 160 when Nemechek was battling German Quiroga and Timothy Peters for third place ultimately led to a 15th-place finish.
So what was set up as a storybook ending on the eve of Father's Day with his dad, Joe, hanging on seemingly every key moment from the pit box, ended in disappointment.
Still, Nemechek had a lot to be proud of as he enjoyed his first laps led in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, 53 of them in fact and second only to race-winner Darrell Wallace Jr. (85).
"We gained a lot of good experience tonight," Nemechek said. "From the feedback side from me and the adjustments that the guys made, all our communication got better tonight. We took a 10th-place truck and pretty much made it a top-three truck and we led there forever."
One sequence where Nemechek showed his mettle was on Lap 96 when he battled then-points leader Matt Crafton for the lead, holding off Crafton as he tried to pass along the inside. That move caused Joe to double over on the pit box and put his hands on his knees. But he came up smiling as if to say he was proud.
While Nemechek survived that closely contested battle, it was the other battle with Quiroga that started with 16 laps to go that turned out to be his undoing. The two trucks were in close quarters for multiple laps as the fight went on for third place, and apparently they touched -- and that's when the trouble started.
"He got into my left rear with his right side and it just cut the tire down," Nemechek said. "I felt it going down, but nothing I could do. I was trying to ride it out and it didn't work so we ended up spinning out."
After the spinout, Nemechek didn't have enough time to recover to get back into the top 10. However, despite the end result of 15th, Nemechek arguably built on his sixth-place finish at Dover. And although he won't gain back the bragging rights in the Nemechek household, the team appears to be headed in the right direction after dad's third-place finish last week in Texas and the son serving notice in St. Louis.
Nemechek's performance gained attention from Wallace, who won his second career race at the 1.25-mile track that hadn't seen a NASCAR event since 2010.
"John has always been a good racer, and Joe had a heck of a run last weekend at Texas," Wallace said. "That truck's going to improve a lot, and it's really cool to see that. He was pulling Crafton and Crafton couldn't get around him, but he eventually did but then Crafton had the mishap. But John Hunter, he's fun to race around. ... I remember when I was that age and I was still learning, and he'll be just fine."
And that was the positive tone Nemechek exemplified at his hauler post-race, because although Saturday night's performance ended in disappointment, it was hardly a disappointment.
"This here actually gives me more of a drive to go next week and kick even more butt and to go and lead laps and win and finish top-three," Nemechek said. "Our goals coming into the night were to finish top-five and we didn't do that, but I wasn't expecting to lead any laps and we led a lot laps there. It's just awesome to get that feeling and get those under our belts, so next time it won't be something new and we can just keep moving forward."