HAMPTON, Ga. — John Hunter Nemechek’s roller-coaster Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway started out “sketchy,” but ultimately ended with a solid top-five finish in his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut.
Driving Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet for the first time, Nemechek rallied back from a myriad of obstacles in the Rinnai 250, including a near-spin on lap six, contact with Cole Custer that drew the first caution of the day on lap 11 and a flat tire just before the end of the first stage.
At that point, he found himself one lap down to the leaders, but quickly caught the lucky dog at the end of the first stage to get back on the lead lap. From then forward, it was game on as Nemechek clawed his way through the field from as low as 30th.
In the end, Nemechek passed 26 cars to come home fourth at the checkered flag, a solid effort in his maiden voyage for team owner Chip Ganassi and his best NASCAR result in any of the top three series since a runner-up finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Arizona’s ISM Raceway in November.
“I have to thank Chip (Ganassi) for the opportunity and Fire Alarm Services for coming on board this year,” Nemechek said with a huge grin after getting a hug from his father, Joe, on pit road. “It’s a successful day, for sure. I said if we could run top five, I’d be happy, and we accomplished my goal. We definitely passed a lot of cars.”
“It was a really fun, learning day. (Crew chief Mike) Shiplett and I have hit it off pretty good so far. He made some good adjustments from on top of the box and improved the car a lot for me as the race went on. It was a lot of fun being able to rebound from the back to the front. I just had to be patient. I wish there could have been a caution, so we could have come and gotten tires. I don’t know what we had for those top guys, but I think we could have given them a run for their money.”
Nemechek was particularly apologetic to Custer, however, after his involvement in the lap 11 crash that took his fellow NASCAR Next alumnus out of the race.
“Those couple instances where I got turned sideways by a few of the veterans, I guess I was learning my place,” admitted Nemechek. “I have to apologize to Cole. I didn’t mean to get into him off of (turn) four there. I got tagged from behind and turned into him, and it just sent him spinning. I feel really bad for those guys.”
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