John Hunter Nemechek enters Bristol locked into next round, nothing to lose

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John Hunter Nemechek enters Bristol locked into next round, nothing to lose
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Although a second-place finish was a disappointment for John Hunter Nemechek at Darlington Raceway, he took solace in the fact that he’s now locked into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs Round of 8.

The runner-up run behind race winner Sheldon Creed was Nemechek’s 10th top five of the 2021 season. The regular-season champion can now enter the final Round of 10 race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16 (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with an all-or-nothing mentality.

“We‘ll take the momentum, not going to dwell on this,” Nemechek said after Sunday’s race. “Just one race of the playoffs and now we‘re focused on the next round. Bristol doesn‘t mean anything to us other than to go out there and try to win. Then the next round starts and all that focus is on those three races to make it to Phoenix. Eyes on the big trophy at the end of the year.”

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For No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports crew chief Eric Phillips, just surviving Darlington was mission accomplished.

“That was the biggest thing coming in here — don‘t make any stupid mistakes,” Phillips told NASCAR.com “It‘s easy to do.”

The second-place result means Nemechek will likely start on the front row for Bristol. After finishing 22nd at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Nemechek and team were behind the 8-ball when it came to a starting spot and pit selection at Darlington.

With nothing to lose at Bristol, Phillips is already looking ahead to the first Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to potentially lock themselves into the Championship 4 with a victory, something the team accomplished at the 1.5-mile track in the spring.

“I think not finishing well at St. Louis (Gateway) hurt us a little bit there and you pay for it the next race,” Phillips said. “Just go to Bristol with a solid truck and have a good week. Our main focus will be Vegas. We were really good there in the spring. Obviously, going back there, we feel good about it. That will probably be the biggest focus because if we can lock in at Vegas, then everything is on to Phoenix at that point.”

Despite winning five races in the regular season, defending champion Creed has stolen the thunder from the No. 4 team with two consecutive race wins to kick off the postseason.

But Phillips feels consistency has played a major role in Creed’s recent streak due to how the starting lineup is calculated.

“The way the lineups go each week, when you rack up a couple wins, you put yourself in a good spot,” Phillips said. “Anytime you get toward the back in these you got guys racing hard. I mean everybody races hard, but it‘s just racing with people you don‘t know. I think that‘s why you see it. If somebody wins a couple, they can win a few in a row.”

At the moment, Phillips has eyes on Creed as Nemechek’s stiffest competition as the race to Phoenix moves forward.

“We knew we were going to race him (Creed) going to Phoenix,” Phillips said. “I think he‘s probably, especially with his momentum right now, he‘s going to be tough. They‘re all going to be tough, but now we can focus on the next round and make sure we‘re ready to go.”