Entering Saturday’s (Oct. 5) Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200 at Dover International Speedway, John Hunter Nemechek needed to be near perfect to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.
Unfortunately, it was a mistake by his GMS Racing pit crew that cost him a shot of advancing.
After starting 17th, Nemechek raced to the top 10 quickly, scoring a pair of stage points in the opening stage, edging out Michael Annett, who Nemechek entered the race 11 points behind for the final position in the Round of 8.
In stage two, Nemechek scored four more points by finishing seventh, while Annett was mired in ninth. Going into the final half of the race eight points back looked manageable for the No. 23 team, until it failed to get all five lug nuts tight on the left rear tire during the pit stop proceeding the stage.
Nemechek believes that mistake really cost his team a shot of advancing.
“We gained points every stage, thought we were going to be good there at the end to gain some more and when we had to come down pit road to put extra lug nuts on,” Nemechek said after the race. “It pretty much killed out day. Had to restart in the back, drive back through and ended up being so far behind that you really couldn’t make anything back up.
“Then, we got trapped on pit road there at the end. Frustrating day, something that we thought we had some positive input on and did everything that we could have. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Heads up against Annett, Nemechek thought he could have gained 11 points on Annett, but it was going to be about who executed the best.
Admittedly so, the No. 23 team failed in that category.
“I thought we had a faster car than he did all day, and it was just going to be about not making mistakes,” Nemechek said. “We didn’t execute when we needed to. … We have a strong team, we just need to finish and execute and not make mistakes, something we’ve done all year.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. It’s been a roller coaster year, a quiet year. Still came home in the top 10, and it’s good to say, but not where we want to be.”
Through the opening 29 races of the season, Nemechek has a quartet of top-five finishes along with 15 top 10s. In the opening round of the playoffs, the No. 23 team averaged a 10th-place finishing position, not enough to advance in the postseason.
As for what’s next, Nemechek claims the goal in the final four races of the season is to “Just run the best we can the rest of the year.”