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Jeremy Clements Finishes 6th In Atlanta

Expect the unexpected. That is generally not something we say about superspeedways and tracks that run like them. But there really is not a phrase out there that can adequately describe Saturday night’s Raptor King of Tough 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. 


Monday night, the 2024 season got underway with the usual chaos that you come to expect from a race at Daytona. Big crashes. Intense pack racing. And a winner that is either a lucky first timer or a ‘superspeedway ringer’.In this case, it was Austin Hill that survived the carnage to claim his third straight win at Daytona – meaning you can pretty well put him in that ringer category. 


This week at Atlanta, the expectation was for the racing to be similar – racing in a tight pack unable to gain any separation and just trying to survive to the finish. That has been the reputation Atlanta Motor Speedway has gained since it was repaved three years ago. But, Saturday evening’s Xfinity Series race turned out to go everywhere but with the status quo. 


Earlier in the day, Kyle Busch won a truck series race that was little more than a single-file follow the leader test where nobody could make the low line work or even form up anything outside of the outside groove, which was a trend that carried over to the Xfinity race. 


“It definitely surprised me how it  wasn’t as packed racing as I thought it would be. There was a lot of single file racing and it was really hard to pass. If I went to the bottom I dropped like an anchor. I was  just trying to fill holes as guys went to the bottom and stay there and nobody could be too aggressive. We were just kind of stuck where we were most of the race, and that’s definitely frustrating”, said Spartanburg’s Jeremy Clements, driver of the #51 Chevrolet, asked his thoughts on the way the race played out. 


It was evident fairly early on that just like the truck race before it, that this one would be uneventful until the end, when it really became a strategy race, much like the Atlanta races tended to before the repave. Over the course of the first 20 laps, the field broke up into 3 different single file “packs” almost like you would see at Daytona prior to the advent of the NextGen car in the Cup Series with no passing to even be attempted. 


The caution waved for the first time without being for a stage break early in the 2nd stanza of the race when JJ Yeley got his rear bumper hooked from an aggressive push coming out of the trioval into turn one and spun out. The remainder of 2nd stage went the distance under green with a good storyline – rookie Jesse Love. 


The19-year old won the pole for both Daytona and this race as well as his first-ever stage on Monday night, and followed it by sweeping the stages in this event. He led all but 2 laps of the final stage before falling just shy of his first win when he found himself on the unfortunate side of fuel strategy. 


He was told to save fuel along with a good bit of the field because with the extended green flag runs in this race, many teams were on the bubble or likely to end up at least 2 laps short on fuel. It was a fuel gamble that led this race to go to a wild green-white-checker finish. 


With 2 to go, Cole Custer ran out of fuel on the front straightaway, which brought out the yellow. With the race going to overtime, only a small handful of teams opted to come in for a splash and go – one of which was Jeremy Clements. That call from Crew Chief Mark Setzer would end up making his night. 


When the green dropped, multiple cars immediately ran out of fuel, yet somehow managed to limp around. One of them was Jesse Love, who would go on to finish 12th. In the chaos, Austin Hill, who restarted in 6th, was able to go straight to the front and take the lead. With no further incidents leading to a yellow, Hill managed to secure his 2nd straight win to start the season. 


Jeremy Clements restarted back in 14th after stopping for fuel. He would go on to navigate through the chaos for a top 10 finish – coming home 6th, which is a relief for Jeremy and his team, given their recent woes. 


“I am very happy to come out of here with a top six because man, oh man, all the bad luck we’ve had. Mark (Setzer) did a great job calling the race. We were on the verge of making it (on fuel) if it stayed green. I was half throttle the last few laps just trying to hang on to the pack I was with, and it worked out. But then we had to come in and get gas, which I don’t know why all those other guys didn’t. That was really dumb to me. But, it just worked out that we did the right thing”, said Clements. 


“We took the green and then it was just mayhem. There were cars running out of fuel. We definitely got messed up. I had to dodge two cars. The 26 ran out in front of us and he was definitely in the way and it bottlenecked me up and we lost two or three spots maybe. A little confusion for sure, but, all I know is I’m just trying to pass whoever is in front of me. It doesn’t matter who they are”, added Clements of the fateful final restart. 


Clements also overcame an issue with rebound in the right front spring causing the tire to get stuck under the fender as the nose of the car hit the ground while sliding to a stop each time he came in to pit. He lost multiple positions at each stage break caution due to struggling to get the tire off. 


With Atlanta in the rearview, all three series will pack up and head west to Las Vegas next week, with the Xfinity series green flag set to drop Saturday, March 2nd at 5:00 PM.

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