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September 23, 2023

John Hunter Nemechek roars at Texas, locks up seventh Xfinity victory of 2023

FORT WORTH, Texas – John Hunter Nemechek made the winning pass with seven laps remaining in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway to punch his ticket to the next round of the series’ playoffs and increase his series-best and career-best single-season total to seven victories.

His No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led only 38 of the day’s 200 laps but managed to get around Big Machine Racing’s Parker Kligerman and race off to a 1.005-second victory – his second at the 1.5-mile Texas track.

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The winning move came after Kligerman and the day’s most dominant driver, Justin Allgaier, dueled side-by-side at the front of the field. Allgaier, who swept both stage victories and led a race-best 133 laps, got loose in a door-to-door battle for the race lead with Kligerman and drifted up track after a restart with 10 laps remaining. Kligerman pushed forward but was unable to hold off Nemechek.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sammy Smith finished third, followed by Kaulig Racing’s Chandler Smith. Allgaier recovered from the tight racing with Kligerman to finish fifth. The top eight finishing drivers at Texas – also including Cole Custer, Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed – are all playoff contenders.

“I messed up that restart, but I knew I had to push hard and try to recover right there, and man, hats off to this team, Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s been amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, and we’re not done yet,” said Nemechek, 26.

“We’re preparing for the Round of 8,” he continued. “My goal coming into today was to lock ourselves into the next round. Our road courses haven’t been that great for myself. Joe Gibbs, as an organization, has been really good on road courses. But going into the [Charlotte] Roval and hot having to worry about that is definitely a relief.”

WATCH: Nemechek discusses win: ‘I don’t think we’re done’

Kligerman, who is racing in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, was hugely disappointed on pit road despite tying a career-best runner-up effort (also at Road America this summer) in the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet. His work at Texas brought him to one point behind the provisional elimination line, behind the eight drivers who are in position to advance to the next playoff round after the Oct. 7 Charlotte Roval race – the elimination event of this round.

“Had a great run, got to him [Allgaier], and I don’t know how much we got squeezed or didn’t. I thought I could clear him super easily, but I got super loose,” he said. “Feels like I got choked, he says he gave a lot of room. I’ll have to look at it.’

“I’m really disappointed right now,” Kligerman added. “I could see that one, I could feel it. That was the best restart I’ve ever had in my life, put us in perfect position and had the tire advantage, just choked. This one will hurt, but we’ll go make up for it next weekend.”

For his part, Allgaier was equally as disappointed and frustrated. He approached Kligerman on pit road after the race to discuss the close racing and fallout from it. He had battled from the back after being squeezed out of the lead pack earlier in the race by Chandler Smith, which forced him to take his last set of fresh tires earlier than his competitors. Nemechek and Kligerman were able to take new tires on their last stop during a caution with 20 laps remaining, while Allgaier’s tires had 11 laps on them at that point and stayed out – in the lead – during that final caution.

Kligerman and Nemechek made their way back toward Allgaier quickly on their fresh tires, with Kligerman pulling forward to try and make the winning move in the final 10 laps.

“At that point, obviously, we had a really fast Camaro all day,” said Allgaier, who already advanced to the next round by winning the playoff opener at Bristol, Tenn., last week.

“We put ourselves in good position. That last caution kind of hurt us because we didn’t have tires, but still thought we’d do a good job.

“Parker, when I went and I talked to him, said I squeezed him. I felt like I left him plenty of room there, knowing he’d go to the bottom, and he drove it in super, super deep into [turn] three. And he’s been around the sport long enough to know what’s going to happen. Just disappointed. Not only did it mess up battling for second, it put us way up in the marbles.”

With a season-high 12 caution periods on Saturday, there was plenty of drama. Only 17 cars in the 38-car field managed to avoid any kind of accident involvement. And by mid-race, half of the 12-driver playoff field had dealt with some incident.

MORE: At-track photos: Texas

JR Motorsports driver Sam Mayer, a two-time race winner this season and Playoff contender, hit the wall on the opening lap, doing enough damage to his No. 1 JRM Chevrolet that he couldn’t continue and suffered a last-place finish (38th).

He started the Texas race ranked 10th, only 14 points behind Sheldon Creed in the final cutoff position – but left the Lone Star State ranked last among the Playoff competitors, 34 points back and essentially needing a walk-off victory in the next playoff race at the Charlotte road course.

“We’re going to have to make something happen,” Mayer said. “Our backs are up against the wall.”

With one race remaining in this opening Playoff round, Nemechek and Allgaier have automatically secured their Round of 8 positions, as has Custer, who clinched Saturday by virtue of points earned. The regular season champion Hill holds a 44-point edge on the Playoff elimination line. Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith are 32 and 18 points to the good, respectively. Creed takes a nine-point edge to the good into the Charlotte Roval race. Daniel Hemric – who finished 24th Saturday – holds a tenuous single-point edge over Kligerman, who is in the ninth position.

Jeb Burton (-19), Josh Berry (-27) and Mayer (-34) are behind Kligerman – all three involved in incidents at Texas.

Like Mayer, Hemric also stumbled out of the gate, clipping the frontstretch’s inside grass on Lap 19 and damaging the left front of his No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevy. He slipped off the lead lap by stage’s end and finished 24th after sustaining right-side damage in another late-race incident.

Burton faded at the end of Stage 2 with a vibration that escalated into a broken axle cap and a detached left-rear wheel under caution. He was assessed a two-lap penalty midrace, pulled the car to the garage and returned to finish 31st.

The Xfinity Series’ next race is scheduled for Oct. 7 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Note: Inspection in the Xfinity Series garage at Texas was completed without major issue, confirming Nemechek’s victory. The No. 18 Toyota of third-finishing Sammy Smith was found with one unsecured lug nut in a post-race check. … Brennan Poole was unhurt after a heavy hit into the pit-road wall with his JD Motorsports No. 6 Chevrolet. … Stefan Parsons stepped in as a relief driver for an ailing Josh Williams in the DGM Racing No. 92 Chevrolet after Stage 2.

Contributing: Staff reports