Craig Murto: Nemechek about to learn hard lessons

Craig Murto

John Hunter Nemechek is probably going to learn some tough lessons, and he’ll learn them very soon.

The 19-year-old son of former NASCAR Cup racer Joe Nemechek, the younger Nemechek won Sunday’s Silverado 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the road course at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It was John Hunter Nemecheck’s third win in the series, and second this season.

Wins are important to the young driver, especially since he drives for his father’s underfunded team and needs to keep the spotlight shining on himself in hopes of attracting sponsorship. But the way in which he won on Sunday shines a bad light on him, and he may soon learn the consequences.

Cole Custer had the truck to beat. He led the most laps in the race, and led John Hunter Nemecheck as the two gapped the field on the last lap. John Hunter Nemechek got to Custer’s bumper in Turn 9 and gave him a nudge. That’s racing. Then he got to Custer’s bumper again in the final Turn 10 and gave him another nudge. That’s rubbin’. But then John Hunter Nemecheck appeared to drive Custer right off the track surface, into the dirt and into the retaining wall, and turn left into Custer’s truck with his throttle wide open to keep Custer pinned against the wall. As the two rode through the dirt off the track, John Hunter Nemechek crossed the finish line ahead of Custer by about 6 inches.

He wrecked him for the win, plain and simple. John Hunter Nemechek couldn’t get by Custer cleanly on the racetrack, so he drove him off the track and wrecked him for the win.

NASCAR officials took about five minutes conferring before declaring John Hunter Nemechek the victor. Meanwhile, Custer showed his anger by running across the track and tackling him, but members of both teams quickly broke up that altercation.

It may be that officials took their time declaring John HunterNemechek the winner because they really didn’t want him to win. But NASCAR never takes the win away for incidents that occur once the white flag waved and the race is in the last lap.

Many remember the Cup race at Sonoma, California, in 1991, in which Ricky Rudd got the black flag instead of the checkered because he spun eventual winner Davey Allison. But the incident in question – the spin – happened as the cars rounded the corner to take the white flag. Technically it was not a last-lap incident. NASCAR has been consistent in not penalizing last-lap incidents.

But there will be penalties to pay, and the young Nemechek may soon learn some hard lessons.

First of all, social media exploded with negativity toward the young driver for blatantly wrecking Custer. Potential sponsors monitor social media. John Hunter Nemechek did not make it easier for himself to attract funding.

Secondly, drivers will race you the way you race them. John Hunter Nemechek is securely in the truck series’ Chase; I will tell you now, he’s not going to win the title. I’ll be surprised if Cole Custer lets him make it through the first round. There will be payback coming, and frankly, it’s deserved.

Not only that, but other drivers saw what happened. And knowing what John Hunter Nemechek is willing to do to win a race, they’ll be less likely to show him respect when the roles are reversed. John Hunter Nemechek will soon realize that rubbin’ may be racing, and contact is part of the sport, but intentionally wrecking competitors for the win is not acceptable.

Hopefully he learns his lesson and has the opportunity to move on. Hopefully sponsors can overlook this incident, and he can make amends with competitors. He’s a talented young racer, winner of both the All-American 400 and the Snowball Derby in 2014, two of the biggest Super Late Model events in the country. The 2012 Allison Legacy Series champion was voted the Camping World Truck Series Most Popular Driver last year, though I doubt he’d win if the vote were held today.

Many think NASCAR should have penalized John Hunter Nemechek. I disagree; they are simply being consistent. The last lap is a free-for-all, apparently. But rest assured, the other drivers and the potential sponsors will have the final say, and John Hunter Nemechek is about to learn a lesson or two.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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