DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — John Hunter Nemechek was excited — and relieved — with his first victory of the season.
Nemechek took the lead with 24 laps to go, then held off Carson Hocevar in overtime to win the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Darlington Raceway on Friday night.
“There’s definitely excitement there, but definitely more relief,” he said. “Just from the finishes we had this season, we didn’t seem like we were still the team that we were.”
Nemechek felt that change at Darlington as he and his group overcame challenge after challenge to end up on top.
“I feel like we finally have the ship turned the right way and sailing the right way,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep this momentum.”
Nemechek finally cashed in at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” after close calls in both races here last season. He led 65 laps last May, yet finished eighth behind winner Sheldon Creed.
Nemechek was out front 39 laps in September when the truck series relocated from Canada due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic and again came up short, ending second to Creed.
This time, Nemechek would not be denied.
“Finally, was able to bring home the first win of the year,” Nemechek said.
He passed Christian Eckes for the lead on Lap 123 after avoiding the sliding truck of Grant Enfinger and maintained the lead on the final two restarts, including a green-white-checkered finish for his first victory this season and 12th of his trucks’ career.
Hocevar was runner-up for a second straight race. Grant Enfinger was third, followed by Ty Majeski, Matt Crafton, Parker Kligerman, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith, Tyler Ankrum and Todd Bodine.
It looked like Nemechek, who won the pole earlier Friday, saw his chances at victory fade when he pitted for a loose wheel on Lap 58 that took him from fifth to 20th. Instead, Nemechek began the slow climb back into contention.
“I thought we gave it away early, but we fought our way back,” he said.
Nemechek led 70 laps including the final 27 for the victory.
Kligerman won the first stage while Hocevar took the second, both earning their first-ever stage wins in the truck series.
Series champion Ben Rhodes brought out the final caution when he hit the wall in turn one. He finished 13th.
The most serious of 10 cautions was when Chase Purdy turned into the wall after connecting with Tanner Gray. Hailie Deegan and and Austin Wayne Self were also caught up in the crash. No one was seriously hurt.
Darlington began a busy stretch of eight races in eight weeks for the truck series. Kansas is next on May 14.
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