In the photo of Joe Nemechek hoisting the trophy for his 2004 NASCAR Cup victory at Kansas Speedway, there’s a little face in the bottom right corner of the frame, looking up and smiling.
That face was John Hunter Nemechek, age 7, celebrating with his dad.
The younger Nemechek had a celebration of his own on Saturday, dominating the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway. Nemechek won the first two stages (leading 154 of 200 laps) in addition to taking his sixth checkered flag this year in the final race of the Xfinity Series regular season. He’s also the top seed among the 12 drivers competing for the Xfinity Series title.
“I don’t know if it makes us the favorite or not, but I’m super proud of this whole ‘20’ team. It’s been a week,” Nemechek said.
Indeed it was. Nemechek announced earlier in the week he’ll be returning to the NASCAR Cup Series next year.
“I remember being a kid, playing on the playground in the bus lot and going down the slide,” Nemechek said. “After (Joe) won, we got shuttled to victory lane. We couldn’t come in, there was alcohol being thrown, I remember, until after the fact. It was awesome to be able to come to victory lane here with him in 2004 and then getting my first NASCAR Xfinity Series win here in 2018 as well.
“This place has meant a lot to not only myself, but also to our whole entire family.”
Nemechek and his wife welcomed their second child earlier this season, and the family also moved into a new home this year. Adding a championship trophy to the mantle would be a nice way to cap off 2023.
“The momentum we’ve created today, for us to be able to take this and run with it into Bristol next week for the first week of the playoffs is definitely going to be something special,” Nemechek said.
Aside from Nemechek, it was otherwise a typically rough-and-tumble day. Kansas Speedway is earning a reputation for a high-action track with its variable banking and multiple racing lines. Saturday was no different, with 10 cautions, the first coming just two turns into the race.
Parker Kligerman held on to finish fourth, which earned him the 12th and final playoff spot on points.
“I was definitely the biggest John Hunter fan that last run there,” Kligerman said. “We executed at a high level, and that’s what I’ve seen us do the last 12 weeks. I felt like if we can just get into the playoffs and we bring this going forward, we can go racing for a championship.”
Riley Herbst was the first driver to finish out of playoff contention. Herbst’s car suffered some front right damage early, and he and his crew fought throughout the afternoon to overcome that damage. It marked the first time in his Xfinity Series career that he missed the postseason.
“I honestly feel like we had one of the fastest cars out here today, and I feel like we were one of the fastest 12 cars all year,” Herbst said. “We just weren’t good enough today. I feel like we can go now and try to win races. I wanted to get better as a racecar driver, and we have seven or eight chances left to go do that.”
Austin Hill earned the regular-season championship after finishing fifth on Saturday.
The win was Toyota’s 200th in Xfinity Series.