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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Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch ‘get mojo back’ at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch is known for speaking his mind. He says what he has to say whether things are good, bad, successful or frustrating.

That kind of attitude has rubbed off somewhat on his crew chief, Adam Stevens.

After Busch finished a disappointing 29th in Thursday’s fourth Cup race in 12 days, dropping Busch from 8th to 12th in the standings, Stevens was asked in a Friday teleconference where he would assess the progress of the No. 18 team since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus.

Like his driver, Stevens didn’t beat around the bush – no pun intended.

“Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Stevens said. “You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

In the four post-hiatus races, Busch finished 26th at Darlington, accidentally knocked Chase Elliott into the wall to finish second in the return trip to the Lady In Black, was fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, and then things just fell apart in Thursday’s race, his 29th-place finish being the second-worst finish this season (worst was 34th in the Daytona 500).

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be,” Stevens said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to.

“We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race.”

A potential part of the problem with the No. 18 team – it’s a likely problem for most teams that have struggled since the return to racing – has been fatigue.

By the time Sunday’s race at Bristol is over, that will make five Cup races in 15 days. Plus, wih limitations on personnel numbers both at-track and at the JGR shop due to the pandemic, fatigue is apparent.

But after Sunday’s race, NASCAR Cup teams get a luxury of sorts: no midweek races this coming week and a chance for everyone to collectively catch their breath and rest up for nearly a week until the next race on June 7 at Atlanta.

“There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin,” Stevens said. “They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week.

“We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race … will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol offers a chance at redemption — if not a kind of home track advantage — for Busch and Stevens. In 29 Cup starts there, Busch has eight wins — including three in his last five starts there — plus 12 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

If there ever was a place to right the listing No. 18 ship, the world’s fastest half-mile may just be the place.

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change,” Stevens said. “He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend.

“It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well.

“If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”