KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- John Hunter Nemechek dominated the Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, denying second-place finisher Brandon Jones the win that would have gotten him into the playoffs and allowing Parker Kligerman to slide into the final spot.
"I don't know if this makes us a favorite or not, but super proud of the whole No. 20 team," said Nemechek, who led 154 of 200 laps. "All the guys made the right adjustments all day. They brought a really fast hotrod."
It has been a memorable few days for the 26-year-old Nemechek, who swept the first two stages before taking the checkered flag for the sixth time this season. Earlier in the week, Nemechek was announced as the next full-time driver of the No. 42 in the NASCAR Cup Series, teaming with Erik Jones at Legacy Motor Club.
"It's been an exciting week," Nemechek said with a smile.
Daniel Hemric clinched his playoff spot on points simply by taking the green flag. Good thing he didn't need to do anything more, either, because his engine began popping early in the race and he finished 80 laps down.
Kligerman began the day worrying about Riley Herbst, who wound up having to deal with damage from an early wreck the rest of the afternoon. The two started one point apart in the standings, which basically meant that unless there was a non-winner in victory lane, whomever finished ahead of the other would get the 12th playoff spot.
Jones could have been that spoiler, but he could never chase down Nemechek over a final green-flag run.
"I was the biggest Nemechek fan at the end," Kligerman said. "We executed at a high level and that's what I've seen us do the last 12 weeks. I felt if we could just get into the playoffs and bring that forward, we could compete for a championship."
Kligerman and Herbst were running near each other early in the race. But on a restart, Kligerman dropped backward through the field and Herbst plowed into his rear, sending the No. 98 car to the pits and ultimately two laps down.
Herbst rallied onto the lead lap and quickly climbed into the top 10. But his front right corner was heavily damaged from his earlier wreck, creating some tire rub, and Herbst had to pit again with 72 laps left to effectively end his playoff hopes.
"I honestly felt like we had one of the fastest cars out there. I felt like we were one of the fastest 12 cars all year," Herbst said. "We just didn't execute on that restart. I don't know what happened. They all got stacked up, or someone missed a gear, but from then on our day was in a big hole."
Cole Custer is already in the playoffs after a pair of wins earlier this season. But that didn't make him any less perturbed after NASCAR failed to throw a flag in time for him to avoid a large chunk of tire that was on the track. The debris sent Custer into the the outside wall and caused too much damage for the No. 00 to continue.
"I don't want to put blame on anybody, if it's dumb luck or I should be mad at NASCAR. I don't know how long the tire was out there," Custer said. "That tire was sitting right where I was washing up into."
Another playoff driver, Sammy Smith, was involved in a wreck for the seventh consecutive race. He was running near the front on the restart for the final stage when Smith was bumped by Creed, sending the No. 18 into Justin Allgaier, who in turn picked up heavy damage by colliding with the outside wall.
"It's uncalled for," Smith said. "We just got to keep digging and we'll have a good start to the playoffs."