“One race doesn’t define us”

"One race doesn’t define us"

Nemechek, who led the Xfinity Series with seven wins this season and was one of the most consistent performers throughout the year, came one lap short of collecting win No. 8 and a series title along with it.

With Cole Custer leading the way on the start to overtime in Saturday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Nemechek quickly powered to the lead after taking the green flag.

But as the field entered Turn 1, Nemechek drifted up the track, Justin Allgaier slid below him and then Custer made it three-wide and escaped with the lead exiting Turn 2.

Custer would hang on to claim the win and the series championship, but Nemechek’s finish was far more eventful. He tagged the wall and got extremely loose, banged off Jeb Burton and into Rajah Caruth and finally slammed hard into the wall.

The damage to Nemechek’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was extensive and despite leading the second-most laps in the race, Nemechek limped home to a 28th place finish.

“I just drove down in and it didn’t turn. I don’t know if we had a right-front (tire) start going down or what exactly it was. I just drove in, and it didn’t turn,” Nemechek, 26, said. “Man, I hate it for our guys. Our (car) was really, really fast.

“Just sucks to end our season this way, but overall, a really successful season for this No. 20 team and Joe Gibbs Racing. I was proud to be behind the wheel of this car all year. Seven wins is a lot to be proud of.

“One race doesn’t define us as a group. If you win, you come out as the champion. That’s what we told ourselves all week and it almost happened.”

Saturday may have been Nemechek’s last chance at a Xfinity title.

He will return to full-time competition in the Cup Series next season and drive the No. 42 Toyota for Legacy Motor Club next season as a teammate to Erik Jones.

Asked if he was frustrated to the disappointing end to a seven-win season, Nemechek said, “I’m still smiling. It’s frustrating to end the championship run that way to not come out the champion when we felt like we were the best car all year.

“Seven wins is nothing to hang your head over. We won a lot of races this year, we led a lot of laps and had a really good average finish. Overall, just a really solid year.”

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