Jeremy Clements looked more like a perennial race-winning contender Friday night in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway than an underdog who had just one top-10 finish on the season heading into the night.
Clements opened eyes by knocking down an impressive fifth-place starting position — his best starting spot of 2019. When the race got under way, Clements stayed rock-steady.
The No. 51 was a top-10 contender in Stage 1, but he opted to pit near the end of the Stage to set himself up for a better shot at winning the overall race.
After finishing 16th in Stage 1, Clements would go on to finish 10th in Stage 2.
As attrition began to set in with the dominant car of Kyle Busch blowing a motor, and other top contenders like Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones getting into the wall in the closing laps, it was Clements who drove smooth and clean. Clements was coming to the line in third, but was nudged by John Hunter Nemechek on the final lap. Clements would hang on for a great fourth-place finish — his best finish of the year and second-best finish of his Cup Series career.
However, following the race Clements was more focused on the twisty, Road America race coming up next.
“It wouldn’t matter if we wrecked & finished last, I’d still be pumped up to go to Road America,” Clements explained. “I’m ready to kick their ass. That’s a place we can win”
It was a feel-good story to see Clements near the top of the scoring chart, but he wasn’t alone.
A couple of other underdog journeymen Gray Gaulding and Timmy Hill joined Clements in the top-10 Friday night.
Gaulding has probably done more with less than anyone else in the NASCAR Xfinity Series garage in 2019. The 21-year old finished sixth on a hard-fought night, which equals his third top-10 finish of the year.
“What an awesome night.,” Gaulding said. “For all the little guys out there, this is what we work for. We’re definitely going to celebrate.”
Gaulding has an average finish this season of 15.3. Bobby Dotter has to be impressed that his young driver has over-performed so mightily this season.
Hill ended up seventh in a combined joint effort with MBM Motorsports and Hattori Racing Enterprises.
The effort on Friday night marks Hill’s best-career NXS finish (he also finished seventh at Daytona in 2012 and 2018). This is the first time Hill has scored a top-10 in the Xfinity Series at a non-restrictor plate race track.
Hill started the race from an impressive 21st-starting position, but nobody could have predicted a top-finish as MBM Motorsports is usually relegated to using old worn out tires as a cost-saving measure each weekend. However, Hill says the newly forged partnership with HRE allowed the team to afford fresh rubber in the latter stages of the race and it paid huge dividends.
“It gave us a little more tires,” Hill explained. “Normally we’re running on 40-50-lap scuff tires. That certainly helped tonight to have fresh tires.”
Gaulding and Clements will head into Road America next week looking to find a way to win their way into the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season though, all three of these drivers boosted their stock price with solid efforts at one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.