BRISTOL, Tenn. — Both the Nos. 4 and 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyotas advanced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, and teammates John Hunter Nemechek and Chandler Smith were both in contention for the win as laps dwindled down at the 0.533-mile track in Tennessee.
The difference, Nemechek was looking for — and missed — win No. 6 of the 2021 season. Smith was searching for — and captured — his first, ever.
Smith beat Nemechek out in a battle for the lead with four laps left. Nemechek said he did not cut Smith any slack, nor was he told to over the team radio.
“No,” Nemechek said. “I mean, for an organization, obviously you want to get two trucks into the next round. But that’s not something that has been discussed.”
After a late-race caution, action restarted with five laps remaining in the UNOH 200 presented by Ohio Logistics. Sheldon Creed, who led a race-high 189 of the 200 laps, led the field back to green with Smith alongside him and Nemechek behind him. Creed ended up sliding out of the lead and back into the pack after slight contact with the wall. That set the scene for the Smith-Nemechek showdown.
Smith was credited with the lead for the final five circuits. The No. 18 driver won by 0.422 seconds over Grant Enfinger. Nemechek fell to third at the checkered flag.
“I’m pissed right now,” Nemechek said. “Two teammates racing hard at the end, whatever. You get moved out of the way, kind of a cheap shot.
“But it’s a company win, so it is what it is. We raced as hard as we could, and that’s what we had to do.”
Nemechek entered Thursday’s elimination race already guaranteed a spot in the Round of 8 by virtue of points.
Smith, meanwhile, was last (10th; out by 12 point) in the playoff standings after placing 28th at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and seventh at Darlington Raceway. Originally the ninth seed in the postseason, Smith was looking at a must-win situation come the final stage at Bristol.
“I think any other driver that was in my situation would have done the exact same thing,” Smith said. “If you wouldn’t have done that, I think you are in the sport for the wrong reason.”
Austin Hill (wrecked out, finished in 24th) and Todd Gilliland (10th place) were ultimately eliminated from title contention.
The Round of 8 begins next Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Nemechek won on the 1.5-mile Nevada track earlier this season, while Smith finished 19th.
“All eyes forward to Vegas,” Nemechek said. “We’re going to go out there and try to win, lock ourselves in, go to Phoenix and hoist that big trophy at the end of the year.”