Jeremy Clements pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory when he won his first career NASCAR Xfinity race last year at Road America in thrilling fashion.
Clements, driving for his family-owned team, attempted to pass leader Matt Tifft with two laps to go, but went into the corner too hot and both cars spun out. The interval back to third place was large enough that Clements had enough time to correct the car, take the lead, and win the race by more than five seconds.
On Saturday, Clements returns to Road America for the first time since that dramatic victory. But first, Clements spent a few minutes with me reflecting on last year’s improbable run to glory.
Q: What has this week been like for you?
It has been pretty hectic. I’ve had a lot of interviews and media requests. It’s been hectic, but it’s great. I’m really blessed to have been able to win this race last year, and a lot of people want to talk to me because of it. I hope we can do it again somehow.
Q: What are the expectations for this weekend? Is a repeat possible?
Jeremy: I definitely think it is. We brought a new car that we’ve never raced. We have a different combination setup-wise that we’ve never tried before. We wanted to do it the past two road course races, but the car we were running was so old we couldn’t even put it in. I think this will definitely be better and it should be faster. But everybody brings better stuff every race, especially a year later. You never know what you have until you get out there. I definitely think we can win again, but a lot of stuff has to go your way, and you have to be fast, of course.
Q: Looking back at last year’s race, what were your expectations going into the weekend?
Jeremy: Two weeks before the race, we got in a wreck, not of our doing. At Mid-Ohio, we knocked the front end off, and I was pretty upset about that. Going to Road America, which was going to be our best shot to run well, I just thought ‘This is not good’ because I didn’t even think the car was fixed right. I didn’t think the thing would even drive straight. So going into this race last year, winning wasn’t something I had thought about.
Q: At what point in the race did you realize you had a shot to win?
Jeremy: Honestly, I thought it pretty early on because we didn’t get to qualify and we took off and we were flying through the field. We were passing cars that I thought we shouldn’t have even been passing. And then it really hit me after Stage Two was over, and we got to the lead and led a bunch of laps. Then it was time to pit. We pitted, and I came back out in eighth or ninth and had no idea if there would be enough time. But I knew we were fast so we’ll give it all we got. I was able to get back up there and make a run on the leader, and that was just unbelievable. I had chills when I caught the leader.
Q: Talk me through the move for the lead and what was going through your mind when both you and Matt Tifft spun out?
Jeremy: I caught Matt the lap before and tried to pass him a couple of times, and he was blocking me a little bit. And he’s doing what he has to do to win the race. I fully understand that. I was really getting people in those last two corners. I was a lot faster than those guys. I thought I needed to get in front of him before the white flag so if a caution comes out, we will win the race.
I took my shot there. My tires were going away, and his tires were gone. I just got in there a little too hot and slid the rear end a little bit, got loose, and that was it and got into him and spun us both out. I thought ‘I just gave this race away. That was so stupid’. I was able to keep the car going and went back up the hill and took the white and they said ‘You’re still leading by a ton. Bring it on home!’ And I was like ‘Golly, how is this possible?’ It was just crazy. I was just hoping the tires wouldn’t pop. You never know how much damage you’ve done to your tires after you’ve spun out.
I remember running around that last lap and about three-quarters of the way through I thought ‘This is going to happen. I better start thinking about what I’m going to say’. It’s definitely the best day of my life. We’re a small team, and we’re up against a lot every week and just to be able to pull that off was phenomenal. It’s something you dream about, being able to win a NASCAR race.
Q: What do you remember most about that day?
Jeremy: How it all went down. Like I said, coming into it I had no idea we’d have a shot at winning and then we won. And how cool it was to have everybody telling me congratulations. Drivers, crews, all the fans here. That was so cool. There were so many fans in victory lane. Then when I got home to the airport, there were people there waiting for us. It just didn’t end. It was so cool. That just meant a lot to me.
Q: What did that win do for your confidence and the team’s confidence?
Jeremy: I just know now going in that we can do this. We’ve done it before, so why can’t we do it again? Like I said, a lot of things have to work your way in these NASCAR races. These things are long, and a lot of stuff can happen. I think if we do our job and try to get the car fast and not screw up ourselves, maybe we can repeat and do this again. I truly believe we can, for sure.