Kyle Busch said the main reason that he hired John Hunter Nemechek this past offseason was get some sustained success in his Truck Series program again. Busch, was tired of showing that the speed was in his Kyle Busch Motorsports entries by dominating races while his other drivers weren’t showing up and doing anything really with their chances when he wasn’t in the field.
Nemechek, came to KBM to get a different path back to an eventual Cup Series ride. He could have return to Front Row Motorsports or taken another offer that he was given, instead he elected to go to a contender and prove what he could do.
Three starts into this marriage, Nemechek is in victory lane.
Nemechek, led the final 31 laps of Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway en route to his seventh career victory. It was his first since March, 24, 2018 at the Martinsville Speedway though, some 70 races and 26 attempts.
The second generation driver was en fuego on Friday as he led a race-high 94 of 134 laps. He won the first stage and was second to his boss and teammate Kyle Busch in Stage 2. Nemechek, gave up the lead on Lap 90 to hit pit lane for the final time and passed Moffitt back on Lap 103. He never looked back.
Nemechek, has finished seventh, third and first respectively out of the gates in 2021.
Busch would rebound to finish second in his No. 51 Toyota. He started from the back in 29th and had to come from 29th in the end to wind up runner-up. At the start of the race, Busch wasted no time coming forward. He was fourth at the end of the first stage on Lap 30. He took over the lead on Lap 47 and would lead the next 16 circuits on his hometrack.
In the final stage though, Busch’s left rear tire went down, causing him to spin in Turn 2. He’d fall a lap down for repairs and end up in 29th again. Luckily for him, a caution would come out shortly after for a big crash among seven Trucks in Turn 1 to get him his lap back. Still, he would have less than 30 laps to come from 29th to the front again.
He nearly did just that.
Busch, got two more cautions to close the gap and was third on the final restart. He pushed Nemechek out to a big lead while he would take second on that ensuing restart. He’d hold everyone else off for his 14th top two result in his last 15 Truck starts and 15th in the last 17 overall.
This may end his two year reign of Truck Series spring race wins at Vegas, but KBM overall now has three straight.
Austin Hill would finish third in his No. 16 Toyota. Between Nemechek, Busch and Hill now, these three have combined to win each of the last five Truck races in Vegas.
Stewart Friesen was fourth in his No. 52 Toyota for his first top 10 of the season and third fourth place effort in his last five Vegas starts while Matt Crafton rounded out the top five in his No. 88 Toyota. Crafton, has two straight top six results on the season and five top 10’s in his last six Vegas tries.
Strong Night For Toyota
The top manufacturer of the race was definitely the Toyota camp. They finished 1-3-4-5-6-8 in stage 1 to take five of the top six finishing spots then. The next stage, they swept the entire top six. In the end, they’d sweep the entire top five with going 1-2-3-4-5.
Rough Final Stage, Cautions Help Shape Race Though
The first couple of stages saw a combined three cautions. Two of those were obviously for stage breaks. The final stage was another farce. We’d see six cautions over the final 70 laps including cautions on Lap 68, Lap 78, Lap 88, Lap 96, Lap 114 and Lap 122. There was never any real momentum for the closing laps, which greatly hurts the product.
But, the cautions also shaped the ending too. During the caution for Chandler Smith’s crash in Turn 2, Brett Moffitt, Ben Rhodes and others hit pit lane. They felt new tires would help potentially gain them enough track position. With a little help, they could end up in the front at that.
Well, Kyle Busch blew a tire on Lap 88 and brought out a quick caution. It was time for the rest of the leaders to pit, which meant not only was track position in their favor, they would end up in the top three spots.
Tires proved to be to useful though. Moffitt and Rhodes faded while the rest came back up. Nemechek took over the lead on Lap 103 and never looked back.
In how he got competition for the win, Busch was aided by the Lap 96 caution to get the free pass. Then, two more yellows allowed him to keep closing the gap to the front which in turn allowed him to move all the way up to a runner-up result.
In the final stage, the KBM teammates of Nemechek and Busch would experiment on restarts. On the the initial restart to begin the final stage, Nemechek would start on the low line on the front row. Busch, would start behind. Busch, pushed Nemechek out there and followed. It paid off in the same way that they did on the final restart in the end.
But, if not for the third restart, they may not have tried it. See, they did it again on the second restart of the stage, but this time, Busch was eaten up. He didn’t want to do that again. So, he’d choose to restart on the outside the third time. That move was worse.
That’s why they went back to allowing Busch to push in the end, which proved to be the winning combination.
Nice Rebound For Zane Smith
Zane Smith needed this night. After a rough go of it in Daytona to open the 2021 season, Smith brought his No. 21 Chevrolet home with a top 10 effort in Friday night’s race. Smith, was coming off of a Championship 4 appearance a year ago, but only finished 16th and 40th respectively in the two races at Daytona.
In Vegas, Smith was 12th in Stage 1, but had to pit on Lap 45 of the second stage for a tire that went from stemming from contact with David Gilliland. He’d fall to 34th, two laps down as a result of that unscheduled stop.
By the end of the race, there he somehow was back in the hunt for a win. Smith, would finish sixth when it was all said and done. While it’s not a win, it was vastly needed to get his season turned around, especially how it was looking in the second stage tonight at that.
Enfinger Has A Strong Night In The Camping World Opportunity
Grant Enfinger was a victim of the funding game. The talented Truck Series driver lost out on a full time opportunity in 2021 due to the funding not being as much this year for him in comparison to the last. In turn, ThorSport went a different direction.
Enfinger, would be back in his No. 98 Toyota again, but he’d do so with a part time role. He’s sharing the Truck with Christian Eckes this season. In his first and only start with the team so far this season, Enfinger, finished 11th in the season opener at Daytona. He’s since gave way to Eckes for the road course at Daytona and now in Vegas. Eckes, was 10th and ninth respectively.
On Friday night, Eckes was back in the Truck field though. Codie Rohrbaugh came calling and Enfinger would fill in for his No. 9 Chevrolet in Las Vegas.
This Truck for Rohrbaugh was third at Daytona a year ago and eighth this past February. Those are only two of his five career top 10 results. Enfinger, gave the team their sixth with a seven place result tonight.
He was the second best Chevy in Stage 1 (10th) and the top in Stage 2 (7th). He was one of just a few drivers to score stage points in each stage. To be among the best Chevy drivers in a smaller budget team, shows that Enfinger is deserving of a full time seat.
Camping World stepped in to help the funding this weekend which is something I’d like to see the rest of the year.
Rough Night For Creed
Sheldon Creed’s strong defense to his 2020 championship was altered on Friday night. Creed, started second but quickly went to the top spot on the drop of the green flag. He’d lead the opening six laps and finished second in the first stage. The second stage saw him have a spark plug wire come loose and he’d drop like an anchor as a a result of that.
Creed, went from the top five to finish 13th. The team was able to repair the problem, but he was collected in the Lap 68 and Lap 96 crashes after which left him with an 18th place finish.
Solid Night For Daly Ends In Fiery Crash
Conor Daly was doing like he did the last time out in the Truck Series here on this same Las Vegas track. He steadily moved his way to the front as the race went on. Daly, finished 26th in Stage 1 and 21st in Stage 2. On the restart to begin the final stage, his No. 44 Chevrolet was up to 15th.
Unfortunately, his night ended not long after.
Daly, was caught in the middle of a gaggle of truck on Lap 68 and he got wiggly as a result. The air made Daly’s Truck really loose which sent him up into the outside SAFER barrier in the first turn with hard impact. Fire would erupt his truck, which luckily the INDYCAR driver would climb out unscathed.
He cited inexperience as a result of the accident in that he has never felt the air manipulate a vehicle the way it did then.