In a nine-year-old car, Jeremy Clements recovered from a penultimate lap collision with Matt Tifft and clinched a playoff berth after winning his first Xfinity Series race in his 256th start.
In 2008, 12-year NASCAR Xfinity Series veteran Jeremy Clements ran his final season in the ARCA Racing Series, driving the No. 3 Chevrolet for car owner Ken Appling. It’s also the same year Clements’ self-operated car was built and it conquered the goliath of Joe Gibbs Racing for his first Xfinity Series victory in the 8th annual Johnsonville 180 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin Sunday, leading 10 of 45 laps.
On lap 36, Clements gave up his race lead for four fresh tires and fuel after last pitting on lap 21, giving the lead to Michael Annett before pitting two laps later. Annett’s stop gave Matt Tifft—who pitted on lap 29—the race lead and appeared he may get his first Xfinity Series win.
However, Clements’ fresher tires allowed him to make strong charge towards the front, passing Brendan Gaughan for second in the closing laps and with two laps to go, Tifft saw a mirror full of Clements after dealing with the lapped car of David Starr. Then at the entrance of turn 14, drama ensued.
Clements found an opening and went deep into the corner but as he made the pass, he lost control of his No. 51 RepairableVehicles.com Chevrolet and collided with Tifft, resulting in a two-car spin.
Tifft’s back end of his No. 19 Dragon Alliance Toyota went into the gravel trap but managed to keep his car rolling while Clements did a full-360, corrected his car to move forward and passed Tifft for the lead.
Annett was far behind the two leaders and couldn’t take advantage of the incident. Annett however, passed Tifft for second but it was too late and after firing his engine 255 times with fourth at Talladega April 30, 2016 being his best effort, Clements brought his nine-year-old car into victory lane.
Clements became the fourth full-time series regular to win in 2017 and set a record for most Xfinity Series starts before capturing their maiden win.
His victory also changes the playoff standings as Clements’ victory knocked Dakoda Armstrong out of the playoffs, trailing Gaughan—who know holds the 12th and final playoff spot—by four points.
Annett finished 5.802 seconds behind Clements for a career-best runner-up effort and Tifft’s heartbreaking third place finish was his second top-3 in the last three races, equaling his career-best at Mid-Ohio Aug. 12.
Former Xfinity Series road course winners Justin Marks and Gaughan rounded out the top 5.
William Byron came home sixth, followed by Blake Koch, Cole Custer, Casey Mears and Parker Kligerman.
In victory lane, Clements described his battles of running in older equipment and keeping up with NASCAR’s elite teams.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m just shocked. This is a car built in 2008,” Clements said. “Everything we got is old and used. I just can’t believe it. I’m just like, ‘is this real?’ I got to thank Brad Meyer from RapairableVehicles.com, all my guys and my dad, (Crew Chief) Danny Gill. It’s a total team effort and I’m just so happy. Pretty neat to win at Road America. It’s one of my favorite road courses.”
“It’s crazy. Our budget a year is a fraction of a big team. This is just a dream come true. I want to drive for a big team but it hasn’t been the way it’s gone.” Clements said. “I try to keep doing this to keep my name out here and getting as much experience as I can in case I do get the call. Hey, any big team guys. Look at me, let’s go. I got to thank my dad and uncle Glen and all of my family. They’re the ones that keep me here in this thing. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Clements apologized to Tifft for the turn 14 tangle on the penultimate lap and shared his take on the winning pass.
“I want to say sorry to Matt. I definitely didn’t mean to spin him out there. We got in there hot and he kind of came down and I was there. We collided,” Clements said. “I was really beating a lot of people right there. I can really get in the last corner a lot deeper. That’s my fault, it was definitely not his fault. I got in there, got loose up under him trying to keep off from him. I’m very sorry to Matt, I didn’t mean to wreck him. He definitely had the better car in my opinion but hats off to those guys, that’s the Gibbs team. That’s the best of the best and to be faster than them was pretty dang cool.”
Tifft said finishing third was tough after being hit by Clements but remained confident on his team’s performance.
“It’s tough. Jeremy got a little bit free underneath me. I wish we could’ve raced it out to the last lap. We were struggling on old tires. I don’t know if he had new tires there or he just had a lot of speed there at the end but we were struggling on some of the braking zones, getting some wheel hops and stuff,” Tifft said. “Our Dragon Alliance Camry was awesome. They called a great strategy. Man, it’s just tough to come out close but we’ll keep knocking on the door. We’ll just keep plugging along, it’s all we can do.”
“I know as a team from here, Mid-Ohio and then some other runs like at Iowa, we can do this and we can go get wins and go compete for the championship. Obviously, it’s still good to get third out of this but man, you want the first win so bad. It’s just so close to it,” Tifft said. “Obviously, you’re furious at first for being taken out. You just got to be able to put it behind you and move. Our guys did a great job today. They gave me a great car and gave me a great strategy to go off with. Like I said, we’ll just keep plugging along. It sucks but we’ll get a win soon.”
Annett’s career-best finish was his first top 5 since returning to the Xfinity Series this season. His last top 5 came at Loudon July 13, 2013 where he finished fifth.
Annett said Clements’ win puts pressure on his playoff aspirations after dropping to 11th in the standings, 11 points to the good of making the playoffs.
“If it wasn’t for the way our playoffs are, this is the guy I would love to run second to. They’ve done so much for this series on a shoe-string budget. To see them in victory lane here and cheering over there is awesome but it just means that we got our work cut out for us” Annett said. “We just need to do what we’ve been doing these past couple of weekends and go to Darlington. Our organization won there last year so we should have a good book of notes and we’ll just finish off the regular season strong and do our jobs and the points will take care of themselves.”
Annett added he’ll be focusing on his qualifying performance, starting inside the top 10 six times after 23 races and has an average start of 20th.
Annett also dedicated his performance to JR Motorsports mechanic Adam Wright, who was killed in a single car crash last Saturday.
“We had a guardian angel riding with us this whole weekend. We lost not only a great friend, great guy and a great mechanic. He was with us every lap we turned this weekend. It was hard to fill the void that Adam left because he did the work for so many and kept everybody’s spirits up the whole weekend and at the shop as well. He was riding with us this whole weekend,” Annett said. “We just missed about one spot to get him a win but these guys at JR Motorsports gave me a great car and learned all day. I haven’t been here in five years. I guess that’s why the called it a fuel or tire strategy but it’s just a great weekend for everybody. Great run for us and just hope Adam knows that this one’s for him.”
Also racing with heavy heart was Ryan Sieg, who lost his older brother and former Camping World Truck Series veteran Shane, 34, last Saturday, four days before his 35th birthday.
Ryan came home 20th after hitting the wall on lap 5 and now sits 16th in the playoff standings, 65 points behind Gaughan with three regular season races remaining.
Three months ago, Australian James Davison filled in for the then-injured Sebastien Bourdais at the Indianapolis 500. In his second start of the season, Davison won the opening stage but on the last lap of stage two, his Cinderella story ended.
Ross Chastain turned Marks around at turn five and Davison’s No. 20 Hollinger Motor Sports/Lake Forest Hearing Toyota was then hit by Marks’ car, careening him into the concrete wall.
Davison’s battered car then clipped pole sitter and Camping World Truck Series regular Austin Cindric at the entry of turn six. Cindric sustained minor damage but Davison retired from the race and finished 37th.
Daniel Hemric was victorious in stage two but had to settle for a 15th place finish.
Sunday’s race at the four-mile road course had nine lead changes among eight drivers and the race was slowed down four times for eight laps.
Turning right is now a distant memory as the Xfinity Series drivers shifts their focus on oval racing, beginning at the egg-shaped oval Darlington Raceway in Clements’ home state of South Carolina Sept. 2. Annett’s teammate Elliott Sadler led a race-high 75 of 147 laps en route to his second of three wins last season.