Nemechek wins delayed NASCAR Xfinity race at Fontana
By GREG BEACHAM
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) John Hunter Nemechek held off Sam Mayer and earned his third career Xfinity Series victory in a rare Sunday night race on the final NASCAR weekend at Auto Club Speedway's famed two-mile track.
Nemechek reclaimed the lead shortly after a restart with 12 laps to go and held on in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota despite overheating on the final lap. The son of veteran racer Joe Nemechek won on the Xfinity circuit for the first time since Texas in late 2021.
Nemechek is off to an outstanding start in his new full-time Xfinity seat for JGR, finishing second last week at Daytona.
"I feel like this is one of the best opportunities that I've had in my lifetime," Nemechek said. "Everything is going according to plan. ... I'm proud to be a part of this Joe Gibbs organization. Second and then first. Let's keep it going."
Nemechek led 49 of the 150 laps and finished strong in a Fontana race delayed for more than 24 hours after persistent rains and snow flurries during an unusual Southern California storm forced it out of its regular Saturday start time. The race began about 45 minutes after Kyle Busch claimed his fifth career victory at Fontana in the Cup Series event.
Because of the Xfinity delay, Nemechek has the technical distinction of being the final driver to win a stock car race on the two-mile track at Auto Club Speedway. NASCAR plans to tear up the beloved asphalt east of Los Angeles soon, with vague plans to build a short-track course on the site in the next two years - although NASCAR reportedly has also sold most of the land around the facility.
"It's cool to be the final winner here," Nemechek said. "It means a lot. Maybe when they tear this place up, they'll send me a piece of asphalt, just for the memory."
Justin Allgaier came in third behind Mayer, who flipped over onto his roof last week at Daytona after attempting a bold move to win in overtime with a pass on Allgaier. The 19-year-old Mayer finished 0.761 seconds behind Nemechek in his JR Motorsports Chevrolet at Fontana.
"We threw the kitchen sink at it, and we ended up second," Mayer said. "All things considered, I'm really happy and proud."
Nemechek couldn't celebrate with a burnout, both because of the water spewing from his overheating engine and because the Xfinity teams must use the same engines and cars at Las Vegas next weekend.
"We had trash on the grill there for a while," Nemechek said. "Hopefully it didn't hurt the motor too bad. But the car is in one piece, and it's fast."
Nemechek will need all the car he can get next week - and all the truck, too. He'll race in both the Xfinity Series and the Truck Series against Busch, his boss and mentor for the previous two Truck seasons.
"What's cool is he drove for my dad when he was about my age back in the day," Nemechek said. "I don't know if there's a rivalry there or not, but I definitely want to go and try to win both races next week, and I know he's in both races. I think it comes down to team, truck and execution."
Cole Custer won the first two stages in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford while bidding for two straight wins at Fontana and three in his career on his hometown track, but he went into the wall with a right front flat early in the final stage. Custer, who finished 27th, grew up in Ladera Ranch, an upscale planned community in Orange County roughly 50 miles south of Auto Club Speedway.
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Updated February 26, 2023