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June 29, 2024

John Hunter Nemechek forges his way to Xfinity Series victory at Nashville

LEBANON, Tenn. — John Hunter Nemechek survived a steamy hot afternoon and held off a highly motivated field to win the Tennessee Lottery 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the second Xfinity Series win of the season for Nemechek in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota — and 11th of his career in the series. The 27-year-old North Carolinian won Stage 2 and led a race-best 76 of the 188 laps, including the final 46, after taking the lead on a restart from Cole Custer, who navigated a corner too high, allowing Nemechek to get by.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

“Feels good to be back in the 20 machine, we’ve been close to winning a lot this year in this thing,” said Nemechek, who will make his first NASCAR Cup Series start at Nashville on Sunday when he competes in his full-time ride, the No. 42 Toyota for Legacy Motor Club. “Being able to capitalize on it is huge. … It’s great to get it done here in Nashville.”

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It was a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2 with Nemechek’s teammate Chandler Smith rallying to a runner-up finish — 0.366 seconds behind Nemechek — on a day that left many in the field standing outside their cars on pit road after the checkered flag taking water and resting after in-car temperatures neared 130 degrees. Several of the drivers either didn’t wear a “cool suit” or had malfunctions with the ones they did use.

Much of the hard work came from the rear of the starting grid, where championship contenders such as Jesse Love, Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed rallied to race up front after starting from the rear for unapproved pre-race adjustments.

WATCH: Nemechek discusses Xfinity performance at Nashville

Creed’s No. 18 JGR Toyota ran among the top 10 after starting at the back of the 38-car field, only to have engine issues in the closing laps.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Love and Hill had impressive hard-earned finishes in their Chevrolets despite the weather challenges and positions on the starting grid — rallying to third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively.

NASCAR Cup Series regular and former Xfinity Series title contender Noah Gragson rounded out the top five in the No. 30 Rette Jones Racing Ford – his second start in the car this season.

“I have no idea,” a smiling Love said of how he passed 69 cars on the day and finished top five when his cool suit was not working properly.

“Just proud to be part of a team that doesn’t give up,” he continued. “That was probably the hottest I’ve ever been. Just proud of my guys.”

Another driver suffering from the heat when his cool suit didn’t work was Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst, who still managed a sixth-place finish despite the circumstances. The 2023 Nashville race winner, AJ Allmendinger, finished seventh, followed by Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer and Sam Mayer.

MORE: Weekend schedule: Nashville

Custer holds on to the Xfinity Series championship lead by 15 points over Chandler Smith but was — as expected — frustrated not to come away with his first victory of the season after leading an impressive 64 laps himself. He fell all the way back to fifth, losing the lead to Nemechek on that race-deciding restart and ultimately had his work cut out to stay among the top 10.

“I think I overdrove on that restart a little bit into Turn 1,” said Custer, who started second in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 00 Ford. “There’s a couple things I could have done better. Everyone’s got dirty air, and man, it was hard to make speed. I felt like we were solid when we were in the top three cars, but once we got back there, it was tough to get the car to handle.

“I can’t say enough about our guys. We’re bringing cars that compete for wins every week, it’s just heartbreaking every week not to win. We’re bringing good cars and leading laps, we’ll get it eventually. We’ll keep digging.”

Xfinity teammates Ty Gibbs and Nemechek divided the stage wins, but Gibbs dropped from victory contention in a final-stage incident. A nudge from the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier sent Gibbs’ No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota spinning into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 135. Allgaier managed to recover for a top-10 result, and Gibbs continued for a 20th-place finish.

The Xfinity Series’ next race is The Loop 110, part of Chicago Street Race Weekend. The 50-lap, 110-mile event through the streets of the Windy City is scheduled Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. ET start (NBC, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).

Note: NASCAR Xfinity Series post-race inspection cleared at Nashville Superspeedway without issue, confirming Nemechek as the race winner.

Contributing: Staff reports