John Hunter Nemechek’s speed and poise were nearly rewarded Saturday night with a series-best third win of the season. After a pit-road gambit and a double-overtime scramble left him to fight for a top-five effort, the next-best prize was a nod to his season to date.
Nemechek finished fifth in Saturday’s Wise Power 200, padding his lead atop the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings. That perch as the top points-earner after seven races meant a $50,000 bonus from Camping World’s Marcus Lemonis to the road crew for his No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
“It means a lot,” Nemechek said after his fifth top-five finish in seven races this year. “Everything that Marcus Lemonis does for this sport and the Camping World Truck Series is super-special. Can’t thank him enough, but our guys deserve it. I mean, even all the guys back at the shop deserve it. They’ve been working their tails off, and it’s nice to continue to gain on our points lead. We didn’t lose any points to anyone. I think we made it even bigger tonight, so that’s a plus.”
Nemechek started from the pole position and led 17 laps, finishing second in the first two stages behind team owner and eventual winner Kyle Busch. Second place is also where he rode before a late patch of caution flags pushed the event into a pair of overtimes, six laps past the scheduled 134-lap distance.
The No. 4 team opted to pit for less-worn, scuffed-in tires before the first OT attempt, dropping him to 11th place in the order. He made gains in the restart before another caution flag bunched the field once more, and Nemechek lined up seventh after the choose-rule lap. Despite some restart jostling and a fair share of tire smoke from his No. 4 Toyota, he ended up with his fifth top-five finish in seven races this year.
“Overall, I was all for the gamble,” said Nemechek, who said his truck lacked the straight-up restart speed to challenge Busch for the win. “Having two wins, being locked in (to the playoffs) and the points leader, and only 14 or 15 cars on the lead lap, we thought our odds were pretty good.”
Aside from a crash-related 39th-place finish in the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt-track race, Nemechek has been remarkably consistent in his first season for KBM. With that blemish removed, it’s a clean sweep of top-10 runs that suggests that any adjustment period in moving to trucks after a season in the Cup Series has been minimal.
“I think John Hunter’s done a great job. I actually think he’s a little bit ahead of schedule on what we anticipated,” said Kyle Busch, who — like Nemechek — is a two-time winner in the Camping World Trucks this year. “Bringing (crew chief) Eric Phillips back in the fold, getting him up to speed and used to everything again, bringing John Hunter on, getting up to speed. I know John Hunter’s got talent, and he can drive race cars. He’s done a really, really good job working with Eric and working with our equipment to get the most out of it.”
For Nemechek, the road crew bonus was a validation of the No. 4 team’s success, nearly a third of the way through the season. Though he has embraced the #here4wins hashtag as a team motto, the group is doing a number on the points standings so far as well. Nemechek leads fellow two-time winner Ben Rhodes by 33 points and third-place Austin Hill by a whopping 78.
“I feel like our consistency is there,” Nemechek says. “We just have to continue to put races together and not make mistakes, make the right adjustments. We struggled a bit on that tonight for that final run, but Kyle got by us. I don’t know. It’s super-neat. Just excited to be here. I’m having blast, having fun, a smile on my face every week, and that’s all you can ask for.”