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John Hunter Nemechek Closes An Era at Auto Club Speedway

John Hunter Nemechek builds momentum to an already superb 2023 start. (Photo: Michael Donohue | The Podium Finish)

FONTANA, Calif. – Auto Club Speedway had its final NASCAR race under the two-mile oval and John Hunter Nemechek will go into the record books as the final race winner. Nemechek beat Sam Mayer by 0.761 seconds to win Sunday’s Production Alliance Group 300.

All Nemechek needed was two races to get back into victory lane in the Xfinity Series. He last won at Texas Motor Speedway in 2021, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. This time, he’s with JGR on a full-time basis.

On a race that was intended to commence Saturday, persistent rain and snow moved the race to immediately after the Pala Casino 400, won by Kyle Busch. Nemechek reflected on winning in Fontana’s swan song and mentioned Busch, his former boss in the Craftsman Truck Series.

“It’s cool. To write my name in history as the final winner at this two-mile oval – what a great place. You can run all of the lanes. You slip and slide around. ” said Nemechek, who led a race-high 49 laps.

“The seams are treacherous but after Kyle (Busch) won, there’s been a lot of doubt, I feel like from fans about Ben (Beshore) coming back to be my crew chief. After Kyle won the race, I texted Ben. He came up to the box and I told him that it was our turn to go get one, and now here we are.”

A victorious thumbs up from the race winner. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

After being denied a win at Daytona last Saturday, Nemechek has a pair of top-two finishes to open the season. He explained what it meant to begin 2023 on a strong note considering the long and winding journey he’s had in NASCAR.

“It’s huge. I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I have,” Nemechek said. “It’s probably the best opportunity in my career. I have a lot of people rooting for me and pushing me to be better every single day. There’s a lot of individuals that push me to be better. I’m glad to be under the Toyota TRD and Joe Gibbs Racing banner. I’m looking forward to the future as well.

“To have two races and finish second, and first. It gets our season kicked off right and hopefully, we can continue with this momentum over the next few weeks and just go execute. I feel like we have one of the best teams in the garage. If not, the best team, but we can’t peak too early.”

Before Nemechek took control, defending race winner Cole Custer had the stronger car. That changed on Lap 91 when he dealt with Austin Dillon, resulting in contact that sent him into the wall and ended his chances of winning.

Dillon sustained right front damage, but it didn’t impact him much as he led 10 laps and crossed the line in eighth.

Custer, on the other hand, lost a lap and wound up with an agonizing 27th-place finish.

A compelling doubleheader for Austin Dillon. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Behind Nemechek and Mayer was Justin Allgaier, who overcame an unscheduled pit stop due to a vibration during Stage 2. Rounding out the top-five were Chandler Smith and Josh Berry. The latter endured a long evening of incidents that saw him tangle with Sheldon Creed on the backstretch. Then Berry spun in Turn 2 later on.

After a multi-day stay on a winter February in SoCal, the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Alsco Uniforms 300. Coverage begins Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

Stage 1 Results: Custer, A. Hill, C. Smith, Hemric, Herbst, Creed, Moffitt, A. Dillon, Nemechek, Kligerman

Stage 2 Results: Custer, Nemechek, S. Smith, A. Dillon, Kligerman, Allgaier, Mayer, Creed, Herbst, C. Smith

Final Top 10 Results: Nemechek, Mayer, Allgaier, C. Smith, Berry, A. Hill, Herbst, A. Dillon, Moffitt, Kligerman

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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