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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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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Love’s Travel Stops returns as Front Row Motorsports sponsor

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Front Row Motorsports and Love’s Travel Stops have extended their relationship into a sixth year, the team announced Monday.

The company will sponsor the No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell in 18 races, including the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

It will also be on the No. 34 for both races at Texas Motor Speedway, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“We look forward to kicking off another great season in Daytona with Front Row Motorsports and welcoming our new driver of the No. 34 Love’s Ford, Michael McDowell,” said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love’s Travel Stops, in a press release. “(Team owner) Bob Jenkins and (General Manager) Jerry Freeze continue to provide great value and flexibility in our partnership while working tirelessly to put a competitive car on the track each week. They also help create a unique race-day experience that allows our customers and employees to be a part of the Love’s race team.”

The team also announced McDowell, entering his first year with FRM, will be paired with crew chief Derrick Finley. The veteran crew chief has been with the team since 2011 and worked with David Ragan last season.

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New car buoys hopes for Chevrolet to avoid ‘unacceptable’ Cup result last year

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A Chevrolet executive calls it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car racing for the Cup championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway but says he expects Chevrolet to have “at least a car or two” in the title race this season with the new Camaro ZL1

Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, made the comments Sunday after a luncheon at the National Motorsports Press Association Convention.

Chevrolet had no Cup car finish higher than fifth (Chase Elliott) last year and did not score a win in the 10-race playoffs — Toyota won eight races and Ford two. Toyota won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

“If you look at the car count and just do a ratio of the car count, we were (seven) out of 16 going into the playoffs last year and to not have one make it in the final round was not good,’’ Suhy said.

“I expect us to have at least a car or two in the Final Four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.’’

Suhy and others at Chevrolet are buoyed by the Camaro ZL1 and look to repeat the success Toyota had last season (16 wins in 36 races) with its updated Camry.

Suhy said a key to the Camaro ZL1 is that Chevrolet engineers found ways to move more downforce from the front to the rear of the car.

“As teams make more downforce, they tend to make more and more front downforce, they don’t gain rear downforce as much,’’ Suhy said. “With the old car, as they made more and more front downforce, it got more and more aero loose, so it got harder to keep the car from being too loose and unstable going into the turns.’’

Suhy said that while there were some Chevrolets that were strong last season — Kyle Larson won four races to lead the manufacturer — many teams had a challenge with the setup.

“I would say the loose to relative looseness of the car didn’t feel as comfortable getting into the corners,’’ Suhy said of last year’s car. “So I think a lot of it is really about driver comfort and how they feel going 210 mph down the frontstretch at Michigan and lifting and turning left and having the confidence that the car is actually going to turn left and not lose the front end. I think those are the things this car will help feel more settled, more stable and less twitchy.’’

Any new car can have its struggles. Despite its dominance last year, Toyota won only two of the first 17 races before winning 14 of the final 19.

“I think some of the things that we’ve done with our car and what we’ve done since it was approved, working together with our teams and with the teams working separately, I’d like to think that we’re not going to struggle that badly that early,’’ Suhy said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re prepared. If we do struggle, it’s not because of the fundamental design of the car, it’s really just a matter of more time development needed. We’re ready to address that if needed.’’

Chevrolet enters this new era without its NASCAR program manager. Alba Colon joined Hendrick Motorsports earlier this month to oversee the team’s competition systems group. She was among those from Chevrolet at the track most weekends who worked with the teams.

Suhy said he’s temporarily filling Colon’s job, along with his other duties, until a replacement can be found. Suhy said the team that developed the car remains and that Kevin Bayless, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR Chassis and Aerodynamics Program Manager, will play a greater role. Bayless will be at the organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team test. 

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