Jeremy Clements has been one of the most persistent racers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series through 256 career starts.
Driving for a small, family-owned operation provides its challenges as keeping up with the top performers in the series on a consistent basis is no easy task.
Despite the adversity, the No. 51 team continues to race each weekend, knowing their chance to succeed is unlikely.
It can happen, though, and did in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 at Road America as Clements earned his first career victory.
Realistically, there are six races a season that provide smaller teams with an improved chance to excel as restrictor plate and road course events often even the playing field.
While Daytona, Talladega, and Watkins Glen provide that opportunity, the increased presence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers further limits the potential for surprise contenders.
Standalone events at Mid-Ohio and Road America are different because the focus is on the series regulars.
“These road courses are wild races,” Clements said. “This one and Mid-Ohio are the ones in my mind that I come and can do really good at. Top-five, top-10. Maybe even win like we did today. You don’t have Cup guys here. You got just the regular teams, and that just gives you a shot. The road courses are wild. A lot of stuff happens.”
It’s less about the quality of the equipment and more about the ability of the driver and strategy that the team uses during road course events.
Clements entered the race knowing it could be one of his best performances of the year but having no idea that he would end the day in Victory Lane.
“Obviously I drive for a small family team and to get a win in any of these starts is amazing,” Clements said. “It’s a miracle. Feels like a dream come true.”
The feat is even more impressive considering the teams that he beat.
JR Motorsports occupies the top three positions in the points standings and will have some of the strongest Playoff contenders but came closest with Michael Annett in second-place.
Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 17 circuits but Clements chased down Matt Tifft in the closing laps, and Tifft ended up third.
Richard Childress Racing won three consecutive races at Road America leading into Sunday but was unable to showcase the strength expected of the organization.
For the No. 51 team to prevail, it attests to their hard work and determination, given the weekly challenges they face.
“It’s very hard,” Clements said. “We’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices. We run old stuff every week. This car was literally built in 2008.”
This victory will go down as one of the biggest upsets in XFINITY Series history. While rare, these moments define racing and highlight why all 40 teams compete every week.
Now the outlook on Clements’ season and career have changed. He will take part in the Playoffs this fall, something his team didn’t even think about before Sunday.
“I wasn’t even looking at the Chase because we were so far back and we didn’t really have a shot honestly unless we won,” Clements said.
Winning one race is a meaningful accomplishment, but now his career will be driven by the motivation to return to Victory Lane and taste the champagne for the second time.
Will it happen? It’s anyone’s guess. But Sunday proved that it is possible.
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