MADISON, Ill. – John Hunter Nemechek powered by Matt Crafton after a late-race restart and pulled away to his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the season Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Crafton, who was looking to put an end to his bad luck at Gateway that had seen him crash in each of the previous three races at the 1.25-mile track, took full advantage of a late-race green flag pit cycle to catapult himself into the race lead.

The two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion came down pit road for a fuel-only stop with 29 laps remaining. Meanwhile Chase Briscoe, who had dominated most of the race after starting from the pole, remained on track until making his final fuel-only stop with 27 laps left.

A slow pit stop by Briscoe’s team allowed Crafton to blow by him as Briscoe was getting up to speed, handing the race lead to Crafton when the pit cycle was complete with 22 laps left.  While that was going on Christopher Bell was charging after taking two tires during his final pit stop, getting by Briscoe with 13 laps left to take over second.

One lap later the complexion of the race changed when the caution flag waved for the stalled truck of Josh Reaume on pit road. During the caution period Briscoe opted to give up third and come down pit road for four fresh tires. That moved Nemechek up to third behind Crafton and Bell while Briscoe would restart the race from 13th.

Racing resumed with eight laps left in the 160-lap event and the fight for the lead was on. Bell and Nemechek quickly began, with Nemechek gaining the upper hand. Nemechek then turned his attention to Crafton, looking under him in an attempt to take the lead with seven to go.

Nemechek
John Hunter Nemechek on his way to victory Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park. (Don Figler Photo)

Crafton was able to fend off Nemechek, but only for a lap. With six laps left Nemechek got to the inside of Crafton in turn one, clearing the veteran driver by the time they exited turn two. Nemechek quickly put distance between himself and the field as Bell dispatched Crafton to take over second.

While that was going on at the front Briscoe was slicing his way back through the field thanks to the four fresh tires he picked up under caution. He was up to fourth with four laps left, then third with three laps remaining.

On the final lap Briscoe looked like he might still have a shot at the victory and in a desperate attempt to get close to Nemechek he cut under Bell in turn two to try and take second. The two made contact and both drivers nearly spun, but they were both able to recover as Briscoe got by Bell to take the position.

It was too little, too late though as Nemechek pulled away to his fourth career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory and first at Gateway.

The victory for Nemechek and NEMCO Motorsports comes at an important time for both the driver and team. Nemechek, who until Saturday had struggled to find any kind of consistency thus far this year, admitted in victory lane they don’t know how many more races they’ll be able to enter because of a lack of sponsorship

“It’s definitely an emotional win. All the hard work that goes in…everyone works their tails off and we haven’t had the best of luck this year,” Nemechek said. “Getting in victory lane when we needed to…God is great. I can’t thank Him enough. Being faithful, I knew all the hard work would pay off. This is an awesome Father’s Day present for my Dad here, my team owner.

“Not knowing how many more races we’re going to get to this year, this definitely means a lot.”

Briscoe settled for second after a dominant race that saw him also win the second stage of the race. He said the contact with Bell on the final lap was just a racing deal as he tried to get back up through the field.

“We were really fast, I felt like we had the truck to beat,” said Briscoe after his second-straight runner-up finish. “I didn’t get all I could get I don’t think getting onto pit road under green. Then there at the end we didn’t feel like we could beat them without tires. The first few laps I had too much front brake dialed into it and I kept locking the brakes up getting into (turn) one. Definitely a tough one to swallow, but overall a good day for us.

“The last lap, it was just a racing deal. We had so much better tires than everybody. These guys deserve to try and get a win. I stuck my nose in there and I was already committed at that point.”

Bell cut down a tire after the contact with Briscoe on the final lap and faded to sixth.

“He was there, I tried to pinch him,” said Bell. “It was last-lap racing. It cut our left-rear there where I couldn’t get back around and finish third. We’ve got two wins, we’re going to get a lot more. Chase is going to win some two. We’re going to be racing hard for the championship.”

Johnny Sauter finished third, followed by Crafton in fourth and Grant Enfinger in fifth.

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