Could it be fair to say that John Hunter Nemechek is back to being a true championship contender in this title hunt through the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs?
A dominant, yet typical, Kyle Busch Motorsports performance at Kansas Speedway led the 24-year-old driver leading the field for 88 out of the 134 contested laps on the night. Nemechek started on pole Friday at Kansas and he has accomplished that feat in both of his race victories during the 2022 NCWTS season.
Second-place finisher, Carson Hocevar, made all the headlines after Friday’s Kansas Lottery 200. His crew chief’s strategy that nearly won him the race to advance to the next round in the post-season, but it was denied as Nemechek tracked him down from a 20-second gap to the last lap and eventually stood victorious.
While Nemechek remained composed, he admits he wasn’t so sure that he would catch Hocevar down the stretch.
“I got nervous for a couple laps actually,” Nemechek said. “With all the lap traffic in front of me, I kept dirtying myself up in dirty air and I had to play it smarter and I didn’t play it smart there for a couple laps and got myself a little bit behind. But overall, really good speed, I had a huge run out of [Turn] 4. I know that the [No.] 42 was saving fuel as well and tried to block there. Just proud of my guys, proud to get back to victory lane, second one of the year. We’re behind from last year, but I said I’d rather win five races in the playoffs and go win a championship then win five in the regular season. We’re going to try to do that.”
It cannot be stressed enough how Nemechek was the clear championship favorite ahead of the entire grid last season. He has been vocal about not wanting to peak too early where he entered the Playoffs last year with five wins and earned none in the hunt for the title.
The North Carolina-native’s last career win came at Darlington Raceway, 11 races ago. Which may not be a long stretch of races; however, in that span, teammates Chandler Smith and Corey Heim have combined for five wins.
Which is part of the reason why this triumph is potentially more substantial than any other at KBM, this could propel the team to the next step as they head into the Round of 8.
“It’s huge,” said Nemechek. “Just want to say thank you to Eric Phillips, Jimmy [Villeneuve, Truck Chief], Todd [Chafee, Tire Technician], Greg [Unknown], Adam [Ebel, Engineer]… our entire team, Garrett [Orts, Mechanic]… just everyone at KBM. I can’t thank them enough for the truck they gave me tonight, Toyota Tundra TRD Pro was absolutely on rails. Qualified on pole, led a ton of laps and won both stages and won the race. We came in here really good points wise and it played out in our favor going to get more playoff points going into the next round. Puts us in a good spot, got some momentum on our side going into Bristol.
“I think this one is even sweeter, it’s been a really tough week for myself mentally, emotionally. Things you can’t control, but hey it feels good to come out here and cap it off with a win and show who I am.”
Another aspect of gratefulness toward his group that backs him every race weekend is that he will say farewell to his man atop the pit-box that helped him revamp his career. FOX Sports reported that the crew chief of the No. 4 KBM Toyota Tundra, Eric Phillips, is not returning to the organization in 2023. It is unclear whether that is a move towards retirement.