Jeremy Clements’ first Xfinity win felt ‘like it was meant to be’

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When crew chief Danny Gill saw Jeremy Clements and Matt Tifft go spinning off the track in the last corner of Road America, he instantly looked down at his timing and scoring screen.

Clements and his No. 51 Chevrolet still had a chance to win the Johnsonville 180.

With the field coming to take the white flag, the third-place car driven by Michael Annett was 10.7 seconds behind the leaders and their precarious situation.

Gill just hoped the starter on Clements’ car would cooperate.

“We seen the spin and we seen the car get back straight,” Gill said during the winner’s press conference. “I knew if he could just get it rolling that we still had the better race car. … Thank goodness for that starter on that Clements’ Racing engine.”

Clements, who has competed full-time in the Xfinity Series since 2011 and was making his 256th career start, thought he’d ruined his best shot at a getting his first NASCAR win after his pass of Tifft in Turn 14 went haywire.

“I definitely thought, ‘Wow, good job. Way to go. Could have won this race and you just gave it up,’ ” Clements said. “I just didn’t give up and luckily it worked out. It was like it was meant to be.”

Clements got back underway and took the white flag before Annett even got close to taking the lead. One 4.048-mile lap later, Clements locked himself into the playoffs with three races left in the regular season. He was mathematically out of contention to make it on points.

And Clements did it in a car that was built almost a decade ago.

“We’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices,” Clements said. “My dad (team owner Tony Clements) said already we run old stuff every week. This car was literally built in 2008. We build our own engines. We just try to bring stuff each year better and better as we can get more money to throw at it.”

The No. 51 Chevrolet Clements pulled into victory lane was also recently patched together. It was the same car Clements wrecked at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago when he plowed into the back of Spencer Gallagher as part of a five-car crash on Lap 53.

“It got threw back together and we won with it and I’m just so shocked about that,” Clements said. “That is just amazing to me to take a car like that that was killed, the front end was destroyed and (Gill) was on suicide watch. I (was) too, but I hate it. But it’s racing, you’re going to wreck these things. That’s the way it goes.”

Clements’ team, founded in 2010, operates with a “fraction” of the budget that teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing have the luxury of enjoying.

And in the closing laps, with fresher tires on his car, Clements had next to no idea he was outrunning those teams.

“There’s no scoreboard out there, so you can’t see what’s going (on),” Clements said. “I’m just driving as hard as I can the whole race. When we had pitted and we were behind a few cars, I thought ‘well, maybe those guys are the leaders. I don’t know.’ We got to third and (Gill) said ‘you’re in third’ and I thought, ‘OK, we might have a shot at this. Wow. This is for real.'”

It became even more real once he took second place with six laps to go and Tifft was getting closer in his windshield.

“I was licking my chops, man,” Clements said. “I mean first victory. I was just so excited. I couldn’t believe that was right there for me to get.”

Clements admits he was “a little impatient” with his attempt to get around Tifft, but in his defense “it’s kind of the last lap.”

The win also comes 13 years after 10 surgeries helped save Clements’ right hand, which was severely injured in a late-model crash. At the time, his doctor told him he’d never be able to race again.

“We were able to prove him wrong, thankfully,” Clements said. “But I had some good doctors to make that happen, so got to thank them for sure. That was a freak deal. That was so long ago it feels like it didn’t even happen now. I definitely got the hand to prove it. I’m just psyched to be here. I can’t even believe we won the race.”

Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race underway after rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is underway after a three hour and 24 minute rain delay.

The race had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The green flag waved at 4:24 p.m. ET

Kurt Busch started from the pole and Martin Truex Jr. started second.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.