Jeremy Clements shouldn’t have been on the radar of getting a win last year at the famed Road America road course. The radar wasn’t close to him entering the weekend. But then, he won the race.
The 2017 victory propelled Clements into the playoffs, en route to a career-best 12th-place championship effort. Fast forward 52 weeks and the South Carolina native continues to soak in the victory.
“I’m still surprised,” Clements told Frontstretch. “Even racing these road courses we just raced [Watkins Glen International and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course], I’m like, ‘Wow, that was a hell of an accomplishment.’ Looking back, it was just an amazing day.
“When the race started, I didn’t think we were going to win the race. I thought we could get a good top 10, maybe a top five. We started going, and I thought we were a lot faster than these guys, I don’t know how either. It was just amazing.”
That very car he drove to Victory Lane on that August day was on the wrecker just two weeks prior after crashing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Clements didn’t believe the car was going to run straight, let alone win the race.
In the 32 races since the victory, Clements has been sponsored by RepairableVehicles.com for 25 of them, while AllSouthElectric.com has been on the No. 51 car for six. The only new sponsor was at Mid-Ohio in early August, when he was sponsored by BRT Extrusions.
Acquiring very little sponsorship in the year proceeding the victory has been a surprise to Clements, driving for a team with three full-time employees.
“Sponsorship-wise, it didn’t get us the big sponsor that we’ve been fishing for for a long time,” Clements said. “But our partners that we’ve had stepped up some, and Repairable Vehicles has been with us through the thick and thin of it. I want to give them another win.
“To get a big ride or go to a big team, you need millions of dollars. We don’t even get close to $1 million, not even half that [per year]. It’s very tough to race against those guys with their millions of dollars and all the stuff they have.”
If a victory can’t secure a bigger sponsor for a small team, what can?
Clements said, “I don’t know. We’re continuing to try to make this program as best we can. You’re just chasing speed all the time. You figure out what the big teams figured out six months ago, and then they are onto something else. It’s just tough, and when you’re down on manpower it’s tough to do that. For us, just getting a car is tough, much less making it as fast as we can and figuring out how to do it better.”
For this weekend’s race, Clements will be running a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro. It’s an upgrade from the 2008 ride he drove to victory last year, but that will be utilized as the backup should anything happen in practice to the primary ride.
When it comes to 2018, Clements’ numbers are a tad better from 2017 at this point of the season. He has a best outing at Richmond Raceway (eighth) in April, which is his only top 10 of the season.
“It’s been up and down,” Clements said of the season. “We’ve had a couple of really good runs, and then a lot of stuff happen… I wish we were a lot better in points, but all those bad finishes add up pretty quickly.”
2018 is Clements’ eighth full-time season as a driver, all of which have been in his own ride. The 33-year-old believes he could be more of a factor on a weekly basis if he were in better equipment. He almost got that chance in 2016 with Team Penske, when the team approached him to possibly run the No. 22 car at the September Kentucky Speedway race.
Though Ryan Blaney was able to make it to the Kentucky standalone race because he didn’t make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Clements thinks it’s possible he could run with a bigger team in the future, but it all depends on everyone’s favorite “m” word.
“I think anybody can get a chance, you just have to bring a fat check,” Clements said. “They get the money and can’t keep it in there. It takes millions of dollars. I could go drive for a lot of good teams right now, I just need some big-time funding. I’ve never been able to get that kind of funding.”
Clements believes Team Penske “paid attention” to his talents in a small-budget ride. 2016 was the first time in Clements’ career he had three top-10 finishes in the same season, which he believes was his best season overall, despite the victory last year.
In order to get a opportunity of such magnitude again, Clements thinks it’s all about doing what got him to the dance, though wrenching it up just a tad.
“The top 10s is what gets you noticed, but those are really hard to come by,” Clements said. “We can finish top 15 a lot, but it’s like nobody even notices. Top 10s are more noticeable, and obviously, we need to go win somehow, and hopefully they will know we’re serious.”
As for Road America, Clements fully believes the small Spartanburg team can repeat.
“Heck yeah, we can do it,” he said. “We’ve done it before, so why not? We’ve got to get the new car where it’s right and a completely different setup. It should be better.”
In seven career starts at Road America, Clements has the victory and another top-10 effort coming in 2014. Other than those two standout performances, his best effort is a 23rd.
- A pair of IndyCar faithfuls will compete in the XFINITY race this weekend at Road America. Connor Daly will be behind the wheel of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford, while James Davison makes his fourth series start in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
- It was rumored toward the end of last week that Kaulig Racing could bring a second car to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month. There is no update on who will drive the No. 10 car, though team owner Matt Kaulig claimed it would be a “big driver.”
- Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in a test session on Tuesday and Wednesday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Reddick won the pole for the season-finale last season at the track.