NASCAR: John Hunter Nemechek, XFINITY champ Chase Elliott win at SpeedFest

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Rico Abreu made his stock car debut Saturday night at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway, but that wasn’t the only place NASCAR’s future was on display this weekend.

Four hours or so to the northwest in Cordele, Georgia, a group of NASCAR drivers that included XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott, Sprint Cup veteran David Ragan, and Camping World Truck Series competitor John Hunter Nemechek took part in SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway.

Sunday was the event’s big day, featuring a late model doubleheader on the 3/8-mile oval – a 125-lap Pro Late Model race followed by a 200-lap Super Late Model race. And Nemechek (pictured) almost won them both.

In the PLM feature, the 17-year-old son of former Sprint Cup driver Joe Nemechek passed Harrison Burton (son of another former Cup driver and current NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton) for the lead just before the 60-lap mark.

Nemechek would cede the lead to Bubba Pollard later on, but off a restart with 15 laps to go, he reclaimed the top spot and went on to win over Pollard, Burton, Chris Dilbeck, and Korey Ruble.

A short break then led to the 200-lap SLM event, with Elliott and Ragan joining in. Elliott, Pollard, and Nemechek emerged as the main contenders but with just a handful of laps left, things got hairy.

Following a restart with eight laps to go, Pollard and Nemechek dueled for the lead with four laps left when contact between the two sent Pollard around.

With Pollard’s bid for victory now finished, officials from the CRA sanctioning body did the same to Nemechek’s when it sent him to the rear for causing the caution.

That put Elliott in the lead with four to go, and he would not give it up. Elliott out-hustled Kyle Grissom to the stripe, with both followed by Ragan in third, Burton in fourth, and Scotty Ellis in fifth. Pollard and Nemechek recovered for ninth and 10th, respectively.

While Elliott celebrated, Pollard and Nemechek were left to talk it out regarding their costly tangle. Popular Speed.com’s Matt Weaver has the pics:

Elliott told Speed51.com that he had to replace a right front tire after the intermission at the halfway point, which put him and his crew in a tough spot.

“We only had one set of tires, and we had a lot of laps on the practice tires we needed to strap on [to replace the flat],” he explained. “So we swapped the good fresh tire onto the right front and put the old one on the right rear.”

Elliott added that while he would have preferred to win “straight up,” he didn’t think he’d catch Pollard and Nemechek without their incident.

“I found something there in the last few laps, but they were still getting away a little,” he said. “I would have liked to have it go green the whole way so I didn’t have to have an excuse, but we’ll take it.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.