KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There were no mixed feelings on Parker Kligerman‘s part — he was ecstatic that John Hunter Nemechek asserted absolute domination over the rest of the field in Saturday‘s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.
Nemechek‘s sixth victory of the season assured Kligerman, who finished a strong fourth, of a berth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, which open next Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kligerman outlasted Riley Herbst, who entered the race with a one-point advantage for the final Playoff spot but ran afoul of the left rear of Kligerman‘s car after a restart in Stage 2.
Nemechek did all he could to overtake Austin Hill for the Regular Season Championship. He won the first and second stages and beat runner-up Brandon Jones to the finish line by a whopping 7.521 seconds. Hill ran fifth to secure the regular-season title by five points after leading by 23 entering the race.
After Herbst had trouble, the only circumstance that could have kept Kligerman out of the playoffs was a victory by Jones. Nemechek would have none of that.
“(Crew chief) Ben (Beshore) and all the guys made the right adjustments all day,” said Nemechek, who won for the second time at Kansas and the eighth time in his career. “They brought a really fast hot rod. … Overall, just super pumped, super ecstatic.
“I‘m looking forward to getting the Playoffs started next week at Bristol. We came in here trying to get the Regular Season Championship. I thought that we were going to have a 60-point day this weekend, and that‘s what we did. We controlled what we could control. We did everything that we possibly could.
“So, let‘s go to the playoffs — I‘m ready.”
Sheldon Creed finished third, 11.881 seconds behind Nemechek, followed by Kligerman and Hill.
“I was definitely the biggest John Hunter fan on the last run there,” quipped Kligerman, who finished 25 points ahead of Herbst for the final playoff spot in a battle that featured substantial swings throughout the season. “I‘m really proud of this whole Big Machine Racing team. … We executed at a high level.
“With what I‘ve seen do for the last 12 weeks, I felt like, if we could just get in the playoffs, and we bring this going forward, we‘re going to race for a championship.”
Just short of midway through Stage 2, much of the suspense disappeared from the race for the final Playoff spot. On a restart on Lap 65, Kligerman had difficulty getting his No. 48 Chevrolet into gear. Creed, immediately behind Kligerman, ran into the back of the 48 and moved to the right.
Herbst, who started two cars behind his rival for the final berth, clipped the left-rear of Kligerman‘s car with the right-front of the No. 98 Ford, cutting his right-front tire and damaging the quarter panel.
Herbst lost two laps on pit road changing tires, but he regained both circuits in short order, taking a wave-around at the end of Stage 2 and as the beneficiary during the eighth caution for a dramatic Lap 97 wreck at the front of the field involving Creed, Sammy Smith, pole winner Justin Allgaier and Jones.
Back on the lead lap, Herbst charged through the field and reached the ninth position, but another flat right-front tire forced him to pit road on Lap 127 and ended his chances to secure a Playoff berth.
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As it turned out, Daniel Hemric clinched the 11th of 12 playoff spots by starting the race, leaving Kligerman and Herbst to battle for the last one. They join Nemechek, Hill, Allgaier, Cole Custer, Sam Mayer, Chandler Smith, Creed, Josh Berry, Sammy Smith and Jeb Burton, all of whom had qualified for the playoffs before Saturday‘s race.
Though Hill secured the regular-season title, he feels his Richard Childress Racing team has work to do to match Nemechek‘s pace in the upcoming seven playoff races.
“Just happy that we were able to bring home the Regular Season Championship, get the extra 15 bonus points — which is huge,” Hill said. “But we‘ve got to go to work. We‘ve got to be better. The 20 (Nemechek) was the class of the field all day.
“Really kind of stunk up the show there, so we‘ve got to go back to the drawing board, figure out what we‘ve got to do better for next time.”
Berry, Brett Moffitt, Derek Kraus, Joe Graf Jr. and Kaz Grala finished sixth through 10th, respectively.
The seven-race playoffs open Friday with the Food City 300 (7:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Contributing: Staff reports