The seemingly impossible happened this week at Road America. Jeremy Clements, driver of the family-owned Clements Racing #51, edged out the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing entry for Matt Tifft to earn his first victory.
To call it a Cinderella Story seems cliché but it’s fair in this situation. Clements and his small, underfunded team passed Tifft late in the race – in dramatic circumstances – to become one of the more unlikely winners in the recent history of the sport. The team that was considered an unlikely playoff entrant will now be in a position to compete for the series’ coveted title.
While being a veteran of the sport, top finishes have not been common for Clements or his team. Clements Racing lacks the funding of major competitors yet found a way to win in a car that is nearly a decade old. It was an emotional celebration in Victory Lane for a driver that had only managed 13 top-ten finishes in more than 250 starts.
Tifft was holding the lead when Clements came charging for a pass as they navigated the final turn on the track with 3 laps to go. It looked like the leader would maintain momentum through the turn but Clements’ hard charge meant he momentarily lost control.
The result was contact with Tifft that sent both cars spinning around. Clements stayed close to the track and was able to gain the lead amidst the chaos. Tifft didn’t fare as well with his car catching both grass and sand off of the track. The #51 car recovered first and grabbed a lead that he would not give up.
Second-place finisher Michael Annett was well behind the spin and couldn’t grab the lead. He was able to pass Tifft but Clements’ quick recovery left him too far behind to take advantage of the other driver’s misfortune. Annett’s finish was his best of the season and the only top-5 that the team has earned in 2017.
James Davison looked the car to beat early as he won Stage 1 without much challenge. The Aussie road specialist drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in his second Xfinity start of the season and third of his career. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as a pit road speeding penalty and collisions on track sent the team to the garage for an early finish.
With Davison plagued by bad luck, Daniel Hemric took the Stage 2 win and appeared to be one of the top contenders for the win. Speeding on pit road would doom him and his team during Stage 3 and they never had a chance to recover.
The top two in the standings and JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and William Byron, both enjoyed decent races to maintain their positions in the points as the regular season nears its close. Sadler maintained his series lead with a finish of 14th. He was able to lead some laps early in the race but he struggled to find the handling setup needed to stay toward the front.
Byron had the better finish as he wound up sixth. The rookie sensation never found the front but fought hard all day and stayed out of trouble. He struggled two weeks ago at the Mid-Ohio road race but showed improvement to finish just outside of the top five.
Xfinity Series drivers will next head to Darlington to do battle at one of the oldest tracks on the circuit. Cars will be mostly adorned with throwback paint schemes to honor the sport’s long-standing tradition and existence. With just three races before the playoffs, Xfinity regulars will be going hard to clinch a spot with a win and grab what few points remain to be had.