Jeremy Clements preps for Xfinity playoff push at road courses

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It’s Jeremy Clements‘ time of the year.

Clements’ best chance at qualifying for the Xfinity Series playoffs via a race win has arrived in the form of two consecutive road course races.

The first, Aug. 8 at Road America, represents Clements’ annual return to the high point of his Xfinity Series career. He won at the Wisconsin road course in dramatic fashion in 2017, beating Michael Annett and Matt Tifft for his only win through 349 career starts.

The following week, Clements will pilot his No. 51 Chevrolet in the series’ first race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The back-to-back road course races come as Clements sits 32 points behind the cutoff for the 12 driver playoff field. He’s chasing fellow independent driver Brandon Brown for the final spot.

Clements, 35, isn’t bothered by the attention that shifts his way every year when the series arrives at a road course, specifically the 4.048-mile Road America.

“I enjoy it,” Clements told NBC Sports. “I didn’t even grow up a road-course racer. I just kind of latched on to it after I did it a few times and really enjoy it and feel like I can make up for lack of speed that we have at a mile-and-a-half-track against the big teams. … The road courses just seem to fall in that category with what I’m in and I enjoy it. … I’m always excited for it and yeah, I like the attention. Hopefully we can win again, man, so we can just prove it wasn’t a fluke, which I feel like we can definitely do.”

Clements enters Road America with six consecutive top-13 finishes, which ties a career best. That’s on top of finishing 13th or better in 10 of the 13 races held since the series returned to action in May, including a third-place finish at Pocono.

“I think it’s pretty good,” Clements said. “I want to be a top 10 every week. But man, we’re just right there, outside the line there, racing against the big teams. In my opinion, I want to try to be the first small, non-big team that finishes right behind those guys. And if you can beat a few of them, that’s even a better day. So we’ve done that here and there. Then we’ve had other little problems, of course, which everybody has.”

Jeremy Clements Pocono
Jeremy Clements’ best finish of the year was third at Pocono. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clements believes he’ll have “a little bit of an advantage” at the road courses over Brown. In nine starts at Road America, Clements has three tops 10s, all coming in the last six starts.

Brown will make just his second Road America start. Last year, he dropped out on Lap 10 due to a suspension issue.

Earlier this month in the race on the Indianapolis road course, Clements finished 13th and Brown placed 11th.

“We can get some stage points and just try to reel off a top 10 or better (at Road America)” Clements said. “We finished eighth there last year, we’ve won there before, obviously. We can run good at Road America.”

One difference between the Jeremy Clements Racing that won at Road America in 2017 and now is the quality of the cars it owns. When Chip Ganassi Racing closed its Xfinity program at the start of 2019, JCR purchased some of its cars and has been fielding them since.

“We never had equipment like that, “Clements said. “They were about to race those cars. Usually we get the chassis, and then you don’t get the good suspension or the right suspension for it, so you got a puzzle and you got like half the pieces for it. So we got cars that came with everything like they’re supposed to.”

Like almost everyone else in the field, Clements will soon get his first shot at the Daytona road course with no practice or qualifying beforehand, just like every remaining race this season.

“With no practice, really don’t know how that’s gonna go,” Clements said. “Especially when you got a draw, you don’t qualify and you’re starting wherever. So going into Turn 1 at Daytona should be really interesting and hopefully everybody will … have some patience.”

In preparing for the Daytona race, Clements’ approach will be slightly different than it was for Indianapolis road course.

This time he’ll have more than an Xbox game at his disposal. While larger teams had access to simulators to get acclimated with the course, Clements couldn’t even use iRacing, which did not have the updated course. Instead, he could only make laps on the latest version of the Forza racing series.

“They had NASCAR-style cars and just drove for a couple hours, literally a day or two before (the race),” Clements said. “And shoot it was really accurate, I was surprised. I mean, I played a bunch of tracks on those kind of games and you get familiar with them that way. So I knew if I could just get familiar with the track that would help. So it really helped, first lap out in practice was fast, we were fifth fastest. It was really cool. And I’ll definitely do that again for the Daytona road course. And I’m pretty sure iRacing has that track on it because it’s been around forever.”

Regardless of how he’s preparing for the road courses, Clements doesn’t want to worry himself with how he’s performing in relation to Brown, who has four top 10s this year and has finished 13th or better in five of the last seven races.

“I just want to do the best I can and not make mistakes and hopefully, mechanical gremlins stay away because if we have one of those we will be out of contention,” Clements said. “I’m just gonna do my thing and not make mistakes, stay on track, not doing anything stupid. …

“So just gonna do all that like I usually do and really not worry about that part and what happens will happen. So we’ll just race our tails off and hopefully it’ll be enough.”