The fastest truck won Friday’s Dead On Tools 200 at Darlington Raceway, but not without much ado between the green flag and the checkers.
Pole winner John Hunter Nemechek fought through 10 cautions, an extra pit stop to tighten a loose wheel and an overtime restart to post his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the season, holding off hard-luck Carson Hocevar by 0.552 seconds in the two-lap shootout to the finish.
“Just a huge shoutout to all the guys that work on this No. 4 KBM Toyota Tundra,” Nemechek said after spinning his truck like a dervish in a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch.
“I thought we gave it away early, honestly, and we were able to rebound and battle back. I learned a lot tonight. I was finally able to bring home the first win of the year.”
Runner-up last fall at Darlington in a race he thought he should have won, Nemechek led a race-high 69 laps in triumphing for the first time at “The Lady in Black” and the 12th time in his career. In winning the pole earlier in the day, he was 0.432 seconds faster than second-place qualifier Ty Majeski.
Clearly, Nemechek had the speed, but his victory was by no means assured after he brought his truck to pit road under caution for a second time on Lap 61 to remedy a loose left-front wheel. That left Nemechek 26th for a restart on Lap 63, but by the end of Stage 2 on Lap 90 he had climbed back to fifth in the running order.
On Lap 123, he passed Christian Eckes for the lead and held it the rest of the way, through the two final cautions and the overtime.
Hocevar was the victor in Stage 2 — the first stage win of his career — but he lost ground on pit road under caution for the stage break and ultimately recovered to restart side-by-side with Nemechek in the overtime.
Nemechek had the advantage of the outside lane for the final two laps and pulled away to win by the half-second margin.
“A lot of emotions,” said Hocevar, who ran a close second to Ben Rhodes in the previous race on Bristol Dirt. “I was freaking out for a second. I had an electrical issue, and every once in a while it would stumble, and it flat out shut off in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 coming to the white (flag). …
“The 4 truck (Nemechek) was really good. I was hoping I maybe could have got him. I would have done a lot into (Turns) 3 and 4. I was better than him in 1 and 2. He was better than me in 3 and 4, but I could have done a lot — just like every race car driver, right? But close once again. Hopefully, we’ll be one spot better next week.”
Grant Enfinger was third across the line, followed by Majeski, Matt Crafton, Stage 1 winner Parker Kilgerman, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith and Tyler Ankrum. Crafton, unofficially credited with a fifth-place finish, was disqualified in post-race inspection.
Fifty-eight-year-old Todd Bodine, making his 796th NASCAR national series start en route to 800, finished ninth, posting his first top 10 since 2012.
Friday’s race, the seventh of the Truck Series’ schedule, saw numerous on-track clashes. The most significant collision happened at Lap 99, when a flat tire suffered by Tanner Gray saw his No. 15 truck contact Austin Wayne Self’s No. 22 Chevrolet. Self slid into Chase Purdy, who crashed head-on into the outside wall in Turn 3. Hailie Deegan was also collected.
Defending series champion Ben Rhodes suffered a flat left-rear tire in Turn 1 at Lap 143 for the race’s final caution. Rhodes careened into the outside wall with the right rear of his No. 99 Toyota, suffering major damage before spinning toward the infield.
The Truck Series returns Saturday, May 14 for the Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Note: Post-race inspection in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage is complete, confirming Nemechek as the winner. The No. 88 of Matt Crafton was disqualified for violating front body inspection heights and is credited with a last-place finish.