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.”