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

6 Comments

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.”

Tony Kanaan says his message of IndyCar-NASCAR unity aimed at fans

Leave a comment

Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The series will race together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.

ON NBCSN: IndyCar at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wants to run IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

“I was bugging Jimmie Johnson to say, ‘Can I be a guest in NASCAR on iRacing?’ I think the misperception, and probably a little our fault as well, is that people don’t know how (IndyCar and NASCAR drivers) respect each and how we think each other’s jobs are so cool.”

It was Kanaan’s comment last week that “it’s not us and them. It is the motorsports world’ that prompted Harvick to ask the 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner about his views on past IndyCar and NASCAR divisions.

Harvick noted that “over the years, IndyCar and NASCAR have that separate stigma as far as the fans, but the racers in the middle, we talk with each other. We’re just racers. I think it’s absolutely great” the doubleheader will happen.

Kanaan said he felt it was the right message to send because of the fans. “For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way,” he said. “We always respected each other and thought each other’s jobs were cool. That tweet was for our fans who say, ‘Those cars are too fast. Those cars are too slow.’ It’s time for us to stop. It’s a racing family.

“For people who don’t understand about racing, any race car is cool. Doesn’t matter if it’s a go kart, a sprint car, a  Cup car, it doesn’t matter. … The situation, we’re in, we’re all equal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We’re all in the same boat now. We can’t do what we love. It just clicked. I said it’s time to send that message. Hopefully this will be the end for ‘you guys and us’ for the fans. For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way.”

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix is scheduled to be run July 4 on the IMS road course ahead of the Xfinity race, which will mean that the NTT Series’ Firestone rubber will be on the asphalt before the Goodyears of NASCAR hit the track.

Recalling a NASCAR test many years ago at Nazareth Speedway when he turned laps a second faster because there’d been an IndyCar race the previous day, Harvick asked Kanaan whether the varying tire compounds might present a challenge.

“I don’t there is a solution for that,” Kanaan said. “It’s part of the job, and we need to realize that you guys run different tires. We run softer tires. It’s no different than (IndyCar) racing with the trucks at Texas. It’s probably harder on an oval than a road course.

“But I like it. It’s part of the challenge and makes the race weekend more interesting, the people who can manage that as well.”

Even though he is sidelined, Kanaan still will stay busy this weekend, racing in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park on NBCSN. He will be tuning in Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox and FS1 as NASCAR hits Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Last Sunday I had my alarm set for 12:40 p.m., because at 1 o’clock (NASCAR was) on,” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I told (wife) Lauren, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and watch the NASCAR race!’ I was excited, and it wasn’t even real. She’s like, ‘Man, look at you … I said, ‘That’s what we got.’ It’s been a weird year.”

Harvick also will be racing Sunday, having recently joined Kanaan in installing a new racing simulator at home.

“Let’s do this Kevin: Come do an IndyCar race on iRacing,” Kanaan said. “I’ll do NASCAR. Now that you have a sim. What do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to go to my 7-year-old to figure out how to drive it fast,” Harvick said.

“He’s been practicing. I’m really good at crashing.”