John Hunter Nemechek passes Matt Crafton late for the win at Gateway
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – “Happy Father’s Day!” a crew member shouted at team owner Joe Nemechek Saturday night as track workers put together the Victory Lane stage behind them. Nemechek had already passed out a half dozen hugs and handshakes to other members of the team he owns, NEMCO Motorsports. “Incredible,” was all Nemechek could muster in response after watching his son, John Hunter Nemechek, pass Matt Crafton late in the race and win the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.
It was the fourth win of John Hunter’s trucks series career, all of them driving for his father. But it was the first in which his father was also a participant. The win puts John Hunter Nemechek in elite company. Other sons to win a NASCAR national series race against their father include Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The elder Nemechek completed just two laps and finished 28th out of 30 cars and watched the rest of the race from atop his son’s pit box. As the laps wound down, he tried, not terribly successfully, to remain calm as his son diced through the front of the field. He keyed the mic a couple times and told his son, “Be smart.”
It was advice the younger Nemechek took to heart. His trucks have been far faster than his results have shown so far this season, and the last thing he wanted to do was be impatient and drive himself out of a good finish. He crashed in the two previous races and had only finished on the lead lap twice all season.
John Hunter Nemechek led all 35 laps of the first stage of the race and 46 overall. Chase Briscoe led all of the second stage. Matt Crafton seized control of the race when he took zero tires on a green flag pit stop at Lap 138 of 160.
The first and only caution that wasn’t related to the end of a stage didn’t come until there were 13 laps left-an unusually long stretch of green flag racing considering how difficult of a track Gateway is to navigate. The caution bunched the field back up, and Nemechek, who had two fresher tires, squeezed by Crafton for the final time with five to go.
“I felt like we had the truck to beat if we had track position,” Nemechek said. “Track position was everything. Clean air was everything.”
When John Hunter pulled into Victory Lane, his dad ran over and stuck his head in the window. They shared a moment about all of the struggles they overcame together to win this race on Father’s Day eve. They can’t outspend other teams, so they have to out think and out drive them.
“It’s taken everything that I have to get here,” Joe Nemechek said. “Our future in this deal is not certain. Hopefully this can spark some interest in sponsorship.”
Joe knew his son would be emotional in Victory Lane, and he wanted to tell him he was proud of him before the chaos of the celebration began. “He’s the man. He drove his butt off tonight,” he said.
John Hunter’s emotions poured out in the post-race celebration. “To give him a Father’s Day gift, something like this, is very special. As a boss, as a mentor, as a dad, pretty much everything he is to me, it’s definitely inspiring. I won’t ever be able to thank him enough.”