John Hunter Nemechek Wins Desert Duel Of Joe Gibbs Racing Teammates

John Hunter Nemechek Wins Desert Duel Of Joe Gibbs Racing Teammates

by March 3, 2024 0 comments

By Reid Spencer 

NASCAR Wire Service 

LAS VEGAS, Nv. — Chandler Smith won the battle. John Hunter Nemechek won the war. 

The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates spent most of Saturday afternoon racing each other for the top spot in The LiUNA!, a 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was Nemechek who proved superior in the long run. 

After Smith won the first two stages of the race—the second with a deft last-lap pass of Nemechek’s No. 20 Toyota—Nemechek asserted his dominance. 

By the time Nemechek crossed the finish line at the end of Lap 200, he held a 4.360-second lead over pole winner Cole Custer, who had charged into second place after a late cycle of green-flag pit stops. 

“Hats off to all the guys on this 20 team for Joe Gibbs Racing, said Nemechek, who led a race-high 99 laps in securing his first victory of the season, his first at Las Vegas and the 10th of his career. 

“Man, it’s awesome to come out here and win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a limited number of starts. Our goal is to come and win as many as we possibly could. Nothing else matters. 

“Congrats to Tyler (Allen). He’s the crew chief this year on the 20 car—his first win as a crew chief. Our spotter, Ryan Blanchard—his first win as well… Man, it feels so good to win here in Las Vegas. Got to rest for tomorrow., so I’m excited.” 

Now full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series with Legacy Motor Club, Nemechek will race in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

Smith arguably had the best car in the race until he pitted with the rest of the field at the second stage break. 

“We just over-adjusted a little bit,” said Smith, who led 74 laps, including the first 49, and came home third. “(We were) trying to stay ahead of the race track, and it feels actually like it might have gotten a little colder as well. 

“It felt like track definitely freed up, and we went in that same direction, thinking it was going to tighten up. So you live and you learn… We were pretty dominant and we just over-adjusted, but I’m happy that a Joe Gibbs Racing car still won.” 

Austin Hill, who triumphed in the first two races of the season, at Daytona and Atlanta, was fourth, with Riley Herbst finishing fifth after dominating the Las Vegas race last fall. AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Sieg, Sammy Smith, Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier completed the top 10. 

Hill retained his series lead by 22 points over Smith in second. Hailie Deegan was the top Sunoco rookie with a 15th-place finish. 

For the second time in three races, ill fortune beset JR Motorsports’ Sam Mayer, who completed just 22 of 120 laps in the season opener at Daytona. 

Mayer was running 10th on Lap 8 on Saturday when the No. 31 Chevrolet of fifth-place qualifier Parker Retzlaff turned sideways in front of him and slammed into the right side of Mayer’s car, knocking him out of the race. 

“It’s just the year from hell,” Mayer said. “Very frustrating and unfortunate and can’t wait to get to Phoenix (for next Saturday’s race).” 

Another early casualty was New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, who took his Kaulig Racing Chevrolet behind the wall with overheating problems after completing 27 laps. 

Van Gisbergen and Mayer finished 37th and 38th, respectively, in the 38-car field. 

Photo Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

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