Coming off his recent top ten finishes in Road America and Daytona last weekend (as long with being one of the four in the Dash for Cash in New Hampshire), Jeremy Clements has been getting a lot of attention. Every single bit of that attention is well deserved. He and his family have taken their own team from ARCA into a part time Nationwide series deal and turned it into a full time team. It has been an uphill battle all of the way, spurred on by Jeremy's talent behind the wheel and the support of sponsors that see the potential he has. After so much time, effort and work put in both at their Spartanburg, SC race shop and each week at the track, it is great to see it all paying off for them.
Recently I spoke to Tony Clements, Jeremy's father and owner of Jeremy Clements Racing, about how he feels their team has progressed over the season. 'I feel that we've made some progress. We still are lacking a lot of sponsorship; we actually have less sponsorship than we did last year. That's made it pretty tough, but we keep trying to move forward, make the cars faster for Jeremy because he's given us good performance out of what we have. We just want to try and do as good as we possibly can and give him a chance.'
A chance is all the younger Clements has ever needed. He has taken what he's gotten and turned it into wins, opportunities to fill in for Joe Gibbs Racing's Cup drivers on non-companion weekends and now via finishes amidst the best in the Nationwide series. Asking about what the teams' goals are now after the 6th place finish in Wisconsin, Tony responded they now want to finish in the top 5. 'Yeah, we really try to move forward. That's what we used to say when 9th place was our highest finish, it was a top 9 or better and now we need a 6th or better.' With the unpredictableness of restrictor plate racing, they could have earned that spot in Daytona. Despite a good start to the Kentucky race that ended after an imagined need to retaliate by a competitor, they bounced back well to eighth place on Friday night, proving once more that they belong.
Still, it's a tough thing to compete with the bigger teams that have more depth in both budget and people. Tony explains how the most difficult thing in keeping up with them is 'all of the development work that they are able to do. They also have so much more track time because they're practicing on the Nationwide side and they're practicing on the Sprint Cup side.' He echoed the sentiments shared by many in their section of the garage area, saying the Cup affiliated teams 'get to determine a lot more information because they have all the tires they need. It just makes it tough on the smaller teams to think about competing with all the engineers they have that we don't have.' He also stated, 'We talk about that periodically that we are aggravated and disappointed that we don't have the resources and the money to move forward, but we just feel like it's important to continue and try do the best we can with what we have to work with and maybe some other opportunity will come along.'
There is a lot of truth in what he says. Walking through the garage areas, it's clear that the better funded teams tend to have people with one specific job on the team whereas a quick trip down a couple buildings to those a bit farther down in points reveal maybe just 4-5 people fulfilling every job imaginable on their car. Still, the owner of JCR is quick to acknowledge the best points of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. 'It's one step under Sprint Cup and there are a lot of very talented race car drivers that Jeremy is competing with. I think that's what it takes to get better and better and for him to possibly get noticed by a big team. Even though he doesn't have a big sponsor, maybe someone would realize that it's not just all about money, that it's still about some talent. I think that the Nationwide series is a great place to race and possibly get noticed.'
As always, there are some things that could be tweaked to make the competition better, especially for the series one step below Sprint Cup. NASCAR itself is trying to figure out how to approach things, whether that be in limiting Cup drivers to a certain number of races or just making the cars more even--possibly even making it cheaper to buy different things (like engines). Tony Clements had an idea there as well, observing that it is something they have discussed back at the shop. He thinks 'there should be some type of stipulation made whenever the Cup guys come over here, maybe they need to have weight added to them to try to even the playing field with these other guys. He cited adding one hundred pounds to their cars, but added 'It's probably not going to change the fact that they win the races, but it would still prove a point that you're trying to keep the playing field even.'
Talking with him further, Tony summarized, 'It's a wonderful sport to compete in and [there are] a lot of wonderful people that you get to meet, see week to week and develop friendships with. Really a lot of high class people that are nice to be around and it's a great sport to compete in. We just feel blessed to be able to be here.' I fully back up what he pointed out here. Rarely have I met people of the quality and genuine thoughtfulness that I have in NASCAR. Through all of the ups and downs (rain delays, massive wrecks and first time winners--the examples from Daytona to fit those extremes), we are very fortunate to watch and support this great sport of auto racing!
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