NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Corey Heim Gets First Trucks Win Via Last Lap Pass at Atlanta
Mar 19, 2022
This isn’t the first time Chandler Smith felt like a teammate who had fallen multiple laps down had cost him a win in a marquee event.
Before the Fr8Auctions 208 on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in 2019 when Casey Roderick, three laps down, drove through the field in the final laps and interjected himself into the battle for the win.
This allowed Mason Mingus to drive away on older tires to win that night.
Roderick was driving for Donnie Wilson Motorsports while Smith was driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports – both marquee customers of HAMKE Race Cars. Runner-up Boris Jurkovic was also in a HAMKE while Mingus won the race in a Port City chassis.
Everyone, especially Smith that night, left Music City frustrated that Roderick had cost the organization one of the biggest wins of the year.
Flashforward to Saturday and Smith was leading Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Corey Heim, with two-lap-down John Hunter Nemechek behind both -- serving as an obstacle for those behind them to overcome but also potential help for either the 18 or 51 truck.
In the moment of truth after taking the white flag, Nemechek darted from behind Smith and moved to give Heim the winning push instead.
"I'm not going to sit here and get mad, or blow up, but we need to talk about it," Smith said.
Smith led 20 of the final 21 laps from the pole, but says the race was lost the moment that Nemechek left him to push Heim on the bottom.
"A lap truck ended up just dictating the finish," Smith said. "He shoved him right by me. I mean, if it wasn't him, it would've been a different result more than likely. I don't know. … A lap truck just shoved the guy out that won and then blocked everybody else that had a run too.
"Like I get it: We're teammates. You're trying to help him out. But you <screwed> your other teammate. Whatever."
It's worth noting that the teammate Nemechek pushed is one that is part-time in 2022 and not the one potentially racing him for the championship.
"We want the organization to win," Nemechek told FOX Sports after the race. "That's pretty much it."
Nemechek also said he didn't have a preference over which teammate won.
"There were runs coming and I was going to block the runs to help two teammates battle it out to get one of them in Victory Lane. That's it. We're one company and we want our team to win and that's that."
Ultimately, Smith just felt like he was on the short end of the Kyle Busch Motorsports pecking order far too often on Saturday.
"I mean, we went in with the speedway racing mindset, so the mindset that we have to stick with teammates and a teammate is going to win this race," Smith said. "I was the only KBM teammate today. Corey helped me one time. We never helped each other. If anything, we screwed each other. I'm the only one who helped and I'm not saying that to toot my own horn or anything. I'm just being real.
"The restart where I pushed Corey out to the lead when he went to the bottom and I followed and (Nemechek) was right there with me, and we would have had three KBM trucks on the bottom. If it were Kyle, he would have done it.
"I just don't understand the thinking and the process behind it."
Smith felt like Nemechek leaving him to help Heim was an affront to a meeting held earlier in the day. Yes, Nemechek helped a teammate in Heim but also left a teammate in Smith to do it.
"We all had a meeting before the race on working together," Smith said. "We didn't even relatively even try to do that today. So, it's just really irritating because I'm a big believer and we've got to do that. We've got to do that. I mean, I was all on board with it all day and then it comes to a point where I keep getting screwed over.
"You start to ask if it’s even worth it. I just need to look out for our group at this point."
Meanwhile, other organizations left Atlanta frustrated with the Nemechek and KBM as well. Nemechek filed in right behind his teammates after losing a lap and essentially served as a blocker ahead of Ben Rhodes and Ty Majeski of ThorSport Racing and Zane Smith of Front Row Motorsports.
"I don't know," Smith said. "It's nothing new from them. No comment really. It's too early in the year to be saying things."
Rhodes, the reigning Truck Series champion, understood the Catch-22 that Nemechek found himself in.
"He's a lap down and on defense for his teammate," Rhodes said. "It's a little rough and you don't see that very often. He was in a position where he felt like he had to do that. That's not going to make you a lot of friends, but I understand the position.
"I think our teammates would ask something like that of us too and you have to be a good teammate, but I don't know. It is what it is."
Would he have done the same thing?
"I don't know," Rhodes said. "You don't know until you have to do it."
Majeski shared his teammates’ sentiment.
"It's hard to put yourself in that position," Majeski said. You want to help your teammates, but like you said, there's also an ethics question there too."