Xfinity Series Spotlight: Jeremy Clements

Leave a comment

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

Follow @KellyCrandall

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

Leave a comment

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

and on Facebook

Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

Leave a comment

Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.