Xfinity Series Spotlight: Jeremy Clements

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Not only was Jeremy Clements told that it might not be possible to save his right hand, but he certainly wouldn’t race again.

That was the diagnoses from doctors as Clements prepared for surgery in July 2004. His right hand and arm had been seriously injured while racing a dirt late model in Madison, North Carolina. The torque arm broke and pulled the drive shaft in two, sending it into the cockpit of the car.

But while the outlook seemed bleak, Clements refused to imagine life without racing.

“I just said, ‘Well, get (my hand) as good as you can’ and if it could wrap around a steering wheel and gear shifter,” Clements told NBC Sports. “All I knew and had done was drive, and there was no backup plan in my mind, and I just would be devastated if I didn’t get to race again.”

Clements underwent 10 surgeries, and his hand was saved. In doing so, doctors sowed it to his thigh to get a skin graph. They also did a bone graph from his hip and a graph from his foot. With physical therapy, it took Clements about a year before he could fully use his hand again.

Today, Clements says the injury is not a hindrance as he competes full-time in the Xfinity Series. Instead, it’s just a memory.

“It’s got a scar that looks like I got burned on the top of my right hand and there are some scars on my arm where they cut it and had to fix the bones and put the screws and plates in,” Clements said. “Yeah, definitely got some marks on it for sure, but I still have it, so that’s the main thing.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: How did you get started in racing?

Clements: Grew up around my grandpa, Crawford Clements, he was always working on racing stuff. He was a crew chief back in the 1950s and ‘60s and then started Clements Automotive, which turned into Clements Racing. My dad and my two uncles raced some and also built racing engines, so I got started racing in go-karts when I was seven because I was tearing up the yard at our house too much, so they finally got me a racing go-kart for Christmas. Just kept moving up the ladder from there.

NBC Sports: Who did your grandfather work with?

Clements: Him and his brother, Louis, they worked with a bunch of different drivers. To give you a couple, Buck Baker and Rex White, Junior Johnson. They won the championship in 1960 with Rex White, my uncle Louis as the crew chief and Crawford was on that team, and other teams but they were helping each other. That’s where all the history comes from, and that’s the throwback scheme we ran at Darlington from when Rex White drove.

NBC Sports: Being a smaller team, what’s the toughest challenge for the organization on a weekly or yearly basis?

Clements: Too many to tell you. I bet the sponsorship we race off per year is what (the bigger teams) get for like two races, and I’m not even exaggerating. We race off that, and we race off the purse, and we have to cut a lot of corners. Not getting the tires we need every weekend or running an engine too much until it breaks a piston, like at Kansas. We have to cut a lot of corners; we don’t have a lot of people. So we don’t have everything we need all the time, like different springs or stuff you see at the racetrack you might want to try, but a spring is $1,500 and you might need that to buy the next set of tires. So it’s hard to keep up with everything going on in racing because money buys speed. We got to keep it going, but we don’t want to bite the bullet so we can be there next week.

We’re just not as prepared as probably you could be if you didn’t race all the time, but in my opinion, if you race all the time you’re better. If you’re racing every week, you’re learning and trying to make the program better, so that’s what I would rather do. But we do a pretty good job of just continuing it, and we can make ourselves better at times when we do get additional funding to do that. But we don’t have an engineer; my dad is the crew chief when he’s really not a crew chief, so it frustrates me sometimes because if I could get a good ride, we could be racing for the win every weekend. On one hand it’s very frustrating to have to race like this, but on the other hand, it’s pleasing, and I don’t take it for granted. It’s a blessing.

NBC Sports: Missing races and not collecting points and purse money is a big deal for a small team so did you worry that your indefinite suspension (in 2013) could be the end of your career?

Clements: I really don’t want to talk about that stuff much because I’ve done in the past, but yeah, I didn’t know what the future held basically. Points do a mean a lot for us at the end of the year because the better we finish, the more money we can make. Especially if we finish in the top 20 and it’s hard to finish in the top 20 in owner’s points anyway. It gets us through the offseason with no money coming in basically because we don’t have a sponsor giving us a set amount of dollars every week. This past year with the points money we were able to get a pull-down machine, something we needed for years and years, so to finally do that is what I think made us run better.

NBC Sports: What type of travel do you like to do and where have you gone?

Clements: I just like to travel and see the country. I like going on vacations. Who doesn’t like a good vacation? My fiancée (Courtney) and I went to Universal for the Halloween festivities during our first off weekend a few weeks ago, so I love doing stuff like that when I get the chance. We went skydiving where I proposed to her back in July. I like doing extreme stuff like white water rafting and skiing and anything to get an adrenaline rush.

NBC Sports: You also like video games, correct?

Clements: I play some Xbox and stuff when I have time, I get on iRacing. I don’t really consider iRacing a video game, though. It’s really helpful to me, especially when we go to the road courses I get on there a lot to practice because you’d be surprised the gearing and the braking is all the same. Those guys did a phenomenal job on that. I use it as a tool to help me refresh and over the offseason I get on there a lot because it helps you refocus and get adjusted to everything again. It just gives you a visual to expect when you get on track.

NBC Sports: Where did you get the idea to propose while skydiving?

Clements: I wanted to do something exciting, I didn’t want to just take her to a restaurant and do that thing. I’ve seen that done before. It was something we had talked about doing anyways, we had never been skydiving. I’ve jumped off the stratosphere and done the bungee cords stuff at Carowinds (amusement park in North Carolina), but never been skydiving. So we wanted to do it anyway and figured I would propose there; it worked out. I told the people that I’m going to propose to her so I probably need to go first so I can get down there before she gets there. We actually signed up to go again. It’s so much fun and I would recommend it to anybody. It was way easier than I expected. It was a lot of fun and what a great view when you’re way up there.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Ty Dillon

Morgan Shepherd

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Kyle Larson moving on from Bristol finish, looking to win again at Richmond

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After losing the lead with six laps to go and finishing second to Kyle Busch at Bristol, a frustrated Kyle Larson headed back to his motorhome.

He was greeted by son Owen, who had a question for him.

“Did you get me some Skittles?’ ‘’ Owen asked.

Even though the candy sponsors Busch, Larson admits he managed to smile at his son’s request.

‘That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it kind of lightened the mood, so it helps to get over it a little bit,’’ Larson said Friday at Richmond Raceway.

The runner-up finish for Larson marked the third time he’s finished second to Busch in a Cup race (2014 Auto Club Speedway, 2017 New Hampshire and 2018 Bristol).

Larson enters this weekend having won the most recent race at Richmond. He took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with five laps to go on pit road and held on in overtime to win in September.

“Typically this hasn’t been a good race track for me, but for whatever reason, the last time we were here we were about a top-three car all race long,’’ said Larson, who starts tonight’s race fifth. “Truex was really fast. But, I was a little bit lucky there at the end with a caution to beat him off pit road and get the win. I think that adds a little bit of confidence coming back here.

“Even though I’ve struggled in the past, I enjoy this track because it is different than what we typically go to.”

Larson enters the weekend with three top-three finishes this season, including the Bristol result.

“I feel like our short track program has become really competitive over the last few years,’’ he said. “Aside from Martinsville, I don’t even know if our package is good or bad there; I think I’m just not very good there. But, for us to get a couple top-two finishes here at Richmond now the last couple of years, at a track that I struggle a lot at, I think says a lot about our short track program. Even Bristol, I think Bristol is my best race track, but a few years ago I would just kind of run around eighth to 12th. But now lately, I’ve been able to lead the most laps and get close to wins.’’

Larson’s Bristol race also included a spin after contact with Ryan Newman but Larson doesn’t blame Newman for the incident.

“I get along with Newman,’’ Larson said. “The line that I run in (Turns) 3 and 4 throughout a run is really fast, but I can get myself in trouble if people poke their nose in on me. That’s the second time I’ve gotten spun by running that line, so I think I just need to be a little more cautious. I don’t think he did anything wrong there. It was getting somewhat toward the end of the race. You’re trying to race for lead-lap spots. So, I cut it a little too close, I think, and ran across his front end.”

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Results, point standings after Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell led a race-high 120 laps to win the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. It’s his second career Xfinity win.

Bell beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson, Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

Elliott Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Elliott Sadler continues to lead the point standings through eight races. He has a 29-point lead over Bell.

Completing the top five is Tyler Reddick (-31 points), Daniel Hemric (-38) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell fended off teammate Noah Gragson to break through and win his first Xfinity race of the year Friday night at Richmond Raceway.

Bell led the final 79 laps around the .75-mile track to score his second career win. He had finished in the top five in four of the first seven races this season.

“That was pretty special there, buddy,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “Had to work for it. My teammate was really good and I knew throughout both practices that both of our cars were going to be really strong. Joe Gibbs Racing has been producing really, really fast Camrys for last couple of weeks and it’s really shown.”

Gragson placed second in his first career Xfinity start. He bounced back from an uncontrolled tire penalty early in the race.

He hounded Bell for much of the last 15 laps, but could never pull even with him.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gragson told FS1 of his first series start at the short track. “I found a little something in the track, a little speed there at the end of the second stage on old tires. I kept it in my memory bank until the end and I told me team, ‘I got something, when it’s time to go tell me when.’ About 18 to go, I told them, ‘Can’t wait any longer, I don’t have any more patience.”

Gragson, who drives full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, led 10 laps.

The top five was completed by Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

With his third-place finish, Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Bell, Sadler, Tifft and Cindric will be eligible for the third Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Talladega.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Elliott Sadler, first stage win of season

MORE: Race results, points

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Cindric earned his first career top five after starting from the rear for an unapproved adjustment … Matt Tifft earned his fourth career top five … Ryan Truex placed seventh to give Kaulig Racing its fourth top 10 of the year. It earned five last year … Jeremy Clements placed eighth, earning his first top 10 since he won at Road America in August.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After winning Stage 1, Daniel Hemric lost his right front tire with three laps to go in Stage 2, but made it to the end. He finished 29th, four laps down … Justin Allgaier spun after ramming into the back of Spencer Gallagher with 86 laps to go. Chase Briscoe was also received damage in the incident. Allgaier finished 14th. Briscoe placed 26th.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “My wife’s already spent it.” – Elliott Sadler to FS1 after winning the Dash 4 Cash bonus.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway at 3 p.m. ET on April 28 on Fox.

Starting lineup for Cup race at Richmond

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Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott will start on the front row for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex won his third pole of the season.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, who is trying to win a third consecutive race, qualified 32nd.

Click here for the starting lineup.