FORT WORTH, TX — Joe Gibbs Racing elected to go with three varying strategies among their four cars during the final pit stop in Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 335 at the Texas Motor Speedway. The last two cautions changed the race which cumulated with Brandon Brown losing control of his No. 68 Chevrolet in the resin in Turn 2 and spun as a result. He made a hard impact with the inside wall on the backstretch and would bring out the 10th and final caution. That changed the complexity of this entire race which served as the opener in the Round of 8.
Prior to that caution, we’d have another which brought the field down pit road on Lap 144. John Hunter Nemechek was dominating the show until he was hit with a penalty on pit road for a crewmember over the wall too soon during this stop. He was leading at the time but due to a car on fire in front of their pit stall, the crewman didn’t have a good visual on the No. 54 Toyota coming at them.
So, instead of keeping a hold of the lead, he had to drop to 17th on the restart. His race winning aspirations were likely over at that point. While he drove up to the top 10, would he have enough time to catch his teammate Daniel Hemric for the win?
He got a mulligan with Brown’s crash. So, while under that yellow, Harrison Burton who last pit on Lap 144, didn’t elect to pit again. He stayed out with the lead. Hemric and all the other cars on the lead lap did hit pit lane for the final time on Lap 174. Nemechek’s crew chief, Chris Gayle, made a hell of a call to take two tires. They had one goal in mind for this race and that was to win. They weren’t going for the drivers championship but rather the owners so why not?
He gained six spots on pit road and came out second on track. Hemric, took four tires and was now in third. The fourth driver for JGR in Brandon Jones also took four tires and exited in 10th.
Would this bold strategy play out?
Burton, held Nemechek off for a few laps but not long enough. The two tires were the benefit as Nemechek’s No. 54 Toyota passed Burton’s No. 20 Toyota on Lap 180 and would never look back en route to his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. His other win came 99 races ago at the Kansas Speedway but for Nemechek, it was 39 attempts since he’s not a full time driver.
Most figured he would be in the hunt for one of the open JGR seats in this series for 2022 but he decided to come back to Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He’s having a career year there this season and in the hunt to win a championship in Phoenix, a place to where he will drive this very same car at and try to give Joe Gibbs Racing an owners title.
Hemric, came back to finish second in his No. 18 Toyota for his 10th career runner-up in the series. He’s winless during his NASCAR career and was 1.316-seconds arrears from Nemechek from ending a 205 race winless drought (38 in Cup, 117 in Xfinity and 50 in Trucks). Unfortunately for him, that late caution came out.
Noah Gragson broke up the JGR party up front to score a third place finish in his No. 9 Chevrolet. It was Gragson’s third straight top seven at Texas including the last two Fall races being in the top three. His JR Motorsports teammate of Justin Allgaier was fourth in his No. 7 Chevrolet for his fifth top six in his last seven races at Texas as well as his eighth in the last nine on the season too while Austin Cindric had a quiet day to round out the top five in his No. 22 Ford for his fifth straight top five on the 1.5-mile track and sixth in the last seven tries.
Strong Day For JGR, 3 Drivers Still Below The Cut Line
JGR has won 10 times in the Xfinity Series this season. Unfortunately though, all 10 were from the No. 54 Toyota. That car serves as the entry where part time drivers fill. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs, Ty Dillon and John Hunter Nemechek have all driven this car. They’ve combined to win those 10 races.
The other three cars in the operation all feature full-time drivers. These guys are going for this year’s Xfinity Series championship. With none of them winning, it’s costing them precious points.
Take Saturday as a prime example.
Nemechek won in the 54 car. Daniel Hemric was second in the second stage, led 55 of 200 laps and came home second in the end. The thing is, he’s still two points below the cut line while doing so. Harrison Burton earned four stage points, gambled by not pitting in the end and it gained him one spot on track with him entering that sequence ninth on track and wound up finishing eighth. Still, he’s now 21 points below the bubble spot. Brandon Jones didn’t have any stage points and finished 10th. He’s now 32 points down.
So, on a day that they won their fifth Texas race in the last six tries with four different driers as well as four of the last five in the Fall race with four different drivers too as well as leading 152 of 200 laps and going 1-2, their championship hopes in the drivers standings took a hit. Three of the four spots below the cutline belong to them.
Another Non Playoff Winner
This is the fourth Xfinity Series playoff race and three of them featured a non playoff winner. Josh Berry won in Vegas, Brandon Brown in Talladega and now John Hunter Nemechek at Texas. In turn, this is shaking up the playoff field in the sense no one is really earning automatic spots into the next round via wins. AJ Allmendinger did last week in the Charlotte ROVAL but that was already a cut race.
Saturday’s race at Texas was the first of the Round of 8 and if one of the eight championship eligible drivers could have won, they’d automatically end up in the Championship 4 in Phoenix. Instead, 75% of the postseason races have been won by a non playoff driver.
Allmendinger sits on top at +30. He entered +34 as he scored nine stage points and finished sixth. He was also sixth in June here and has eight top seven’s in his last 11 starts on the season.
Cindric is +26 as he lost two points too in having 10 stage points via his opening stage win as well as a fifth place run. This now was his fifth straight top five at Texas and sixth in the last seven tries on the 1.5-mile track to go along with six top eight’s in his last seven starts on the year.
Allgaier and Gragson hold the final two spots at +4 and +2 respectively but Allgaier had 10 stage points, finished fourth and now has nine straight top 10’s and 12 in his last 13 tries overall on the season. He’s also had 10 of those 12 in the top six at that. His JRM teammate in Gragson has nine top seven’s in his last 11 starts.
Good luck getting by these four.
Hemric, still has six straight top 10’s, seven in the last eight overall and six to sixes in his last eight. Justin Haley was seventh on Saturday for his eighth straight top 10, 14 of which in the last 15 races as well as seen top seven’s in his last eight.
Burton and Jones are likely going to have to win and neither have won this season with Burton’s last win coming 31 races ago at Martinsville last Halloween and Jones’ 40 races ago on Labor Day weekend of 2020 in Darlington. Hemric, has never won either. These are three of the four below the cutline.
Resin Still Didn’t Work
NASCAR experimented with resin again this weekend in Texas. It worked in my opinion at Nashville and Michigan but for Texas, I don’t know if there’s a right solution here other than another repave. The PJ1 didn’t work. It made the turns feels like ice and forced a single groove track anyways. It completely ruined the INDYCAR race here. The resin was another option but that didn’t work either. Most drivers elected to stay out of it and when they did, they were along for the ride.
I fear Texas has some major problems ahead until they can get this addressed.