AVONDALE, Ariz. — John Hunter Nemechek gave it all he could muster, but even a green-white-checkered restart from the front row wasn’t quite enough to propel him to the victory he needed to advance to the Championship 4.
After entering Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway __ points back of the cut line and knowing that only a win would allow him to compete for the title next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nemechek came one spot short of the goal, finishing second to defending series champion Johnny Sauter and falling in the penultimate round.
Though Nemechek qualified and ran inside the top-10 all night long, it wasn’t until very late in the race that he began to rise, and even then he didn’t believe that a shot at the win was possible.
He found his way towards the top five after narrowly avoiding the second of three huge accidents inside the final 20 laps, scooting away from a five-wide scramble on the backstretch that went wrong behind him and ultimately collected Ryan Truex, Dalton Sargeant and Jesse Little in its wake.
Just before that, he said that he had little hope of even being in contention at the front of the field.
“To tell you the honest truth, I didn’t think we had a shot (with about 20 laps to go),” said Nemechek. “With how far back in the pack we were … but we had a couple really good restarts and I was able to go from ninth to fifth in a corner. When everyone wrecked there and we were able to keep our nose clean, it gave us a shot.”
Nemechek hung in on the next restart with 10 to go, slotting into fifth behind Justin Haley and putting himself into position when Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson crashed racing for the lead, with Haley smashing into the accident scene as well before all was said and done.
At that point, Nemechek found himself third, and moved to second alongside Sauter when Bell pitted for right side damage repairs.
He knew there was a chance, and he knew what he had to do, but it ultimately wasn’t meant to be.
A perfect launch by Sauter when the green flag flew with two laps remaining was enough for Sauter to clear Nemechek by the time they got to turn one, with Nemechek only able to watch as his title aspirations faded away.
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