With grandfather on mind, Jeremy Clements experiencing fruits, exhaustion of first Xfinity win
For Jeremy Clements, one of the best things about his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is the Peach Blossom Diner.
When he was younger, Clements would make trips to the restaurant, located on Hospitality Drive, to hang out with some of his NASCAR predecessors who also called the city home.
Nine-time Cup winner Cotton Owens and 1973 Talladega 500 winner Dick Brooks were among the patrons.
There was also the “Silver Fox.”
Clements is no stranger to three-time Cup champion David Pearson and his family. His son Ricky Pearson served as Clements’ crew chief in the Xfinity Series in 2007 and from 2010-14.
A winner of 105 Cup races, Pearson wasn’t above trying to give Clements advice on how to manhandle a stock car.
“He’d always tell me how to drive and tell me what to do,” Clements tells NBC Sports, giving an example of an exchange.
“You need to just use one foot. One foot brake, one foot gas,” Pearson would say.
“David, there’s no way you can do that anymore, buddy.”
“I’ll get in that dang car and show you.”
But when the No. 51 Chevrolet of Jeremy Clements Racing arrives at Darlington Raceway on Friday, it will pay tribute not to the career of Pearson. It will be an ode to Clements’ grandfather, Crawford Clements.
The car will look like the one driven by A.J. Foyt when he won the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona with Crawford Clements serving as his crew chief.
Jeremy Clements was 12 when his grandfather died from cancer, but his grandfather’s influence ultimately led to his upset win Sunday in the Xfinity Series race at Road America.
“I was really close to him,” Jeremy Clements says. “It was devastating when he passed. He’s the one that got me started. He would take my brother Jason and I to the go-kart track Buck Creek Speedway (in Chesnee, South Carolina) and race with us and do all the work and everything for years. I’ll never forget that. ... I always have his name on the cars we race every week because he meant so much to me. He did a lot for a lot of people.
“He was a very smart man and I wish he was here today to see all this.”
NO REST FOR FIRST-TIME WINNERS
Clements is very tired.
Three days earlier, in his 256th start, the 32-year-old driver became the first Xfinity competitor with no Cup experience on a team with no Cup connections to win a race since 2006.
That causes the phone to ring. A lot.
“I’ve been going after it non-stop,” Clements says. “Haven’t slept the most. Everybody wants to talk to you. It kind of wears you out, but in a good way. I’m not complaining about it.”
Clements lost count of how many interviews he’s given since he took the checkered flag at Road America, one lap after accidentally spinning himself and race leader Matt Tifft in the last corner coming to the white flag.
He was not prepared for the attention one brings by winning in NASCAR.
“Heck no, man,” Clements says. “Not at all. It’s been crazy. I went into Road America thinking that we could run really well there because we had, and I like that place and the road courses were somewhere we could always run good. But I didn’t anticipate to win the race, honestly. It’s just been insane.”
Clements has tried to keep up with all the well wishes on social media, with congratulatory messages from Brad Keselowski, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.
“All those meant a ton,” Clements says. “I think I missed a few.”
The “coolest” acknowledgment he received was one he couldn’t miss. On Tuesday, a goody basket full of cheese, crackers and sausages arrived.
“It wasn’t a low-end basket,” Clements says. “It was a nice one.”
The basket was courtesy of Rick Hendrick.
“First of all, I’ve never even met Mr. Hendrick,” Clements says. “Second of all, for him to even think about me was amazing. To get our address and send something to us was pretty cool. He’s one of the best team owners in the garage.”
Even as the week of celebration unfolds around Clements, the work preparing for the rest of the season does as well.
The car Clements won with, built in 2008 and the oldest of the team’s seven-car fleet by a month, was up on a lift in the shop having its engine removed.
“When I was doing my victory stuff on the front stretch, I wanted to burn that thing down,” Clements says. “But the sad truth of that is that I couldn’t. I was like, ‘heck, we’ve probably got to use this motor next week.’ I had to be easy with it and take care of it. Truth be told, that engine had two races on it before that race.”
Clements and his team don’t yet know how much their winner’s gross will be. They’ll find out Friday and instantly start spending it at Darlington.
“You need probably 15, 16 grand worth of tires there,” Clements says. “It’s going to be a good payday for sure but it’s not going to be something we can just go out and start buying cars and stuff because everything’s so expensive.
“It’s crazy how much, that’s just life in general I guess. It’s like an axle for our cars are $225 a piece and you need them every week, but that’s just one little thing, you know? It takes a lot of individual parts and all of them cost a lot.”
The team, owned by his father Tony Clements, has already made purchases they hope will benefit them in their unexpected position of having qualified for the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.
Even before Road America they had acquired two newer composite body cars from Richard Childress Racing. They’ll first run one next weekend at Richmond.
No matter how things go for Jeremy Clements once the playoffs start, he’s “playing with house money” after Road America.
“I’m not going to get too worked up about it,” Clements says. “We’re going to go give her hell and do the absolute freakin’ best we can. But I don’t want to get too boiled up about it if we don’t do the best and we don’t make it to the next round. I’m not saying we’re not gonna, I’m just saying we’re playing with house money. In my opinion it’s just icing on the cake.”
‘LOOK AT ME. LET’S GO’
When Clements took the white flag at Road America, he started getting chills, goosebumps and knots in his stomach.
First, he had no idea how after spinning with Tifft and briefly stalling out he still had the lead. Also, as he made his final lap around the 4-mile road course, his mind began racing.
“Just honestly started thinking about what do I even do if we win?” Clements says. “What do I say and who do I need to thank?”
When he finally got to victory lane, he had the presence of mind to give a shout out to any big team owners that were paying attention.
“I want to drive for a big team, but it hasn’t been the way it’s gone,” Clements told NBC. “I try to keep doing this, to keep my name out here getting as much experience as I can in case I do get the call. To any big team guys. Look at me. Let’s go.”
For Clements, NASCAR has always been his goal since his days of watching Days of Thunder on a TV in the back of a van on the way to go-kart tracks to get “amped up.”
In the few days since his win, when not talking with the press, Clements has reached out to owners.
“They say ‘we’ve paid attention to you before,’ but at the end of the day, they need money,” Clements says. “There’s hardly anybody getting opportunities these days that didn’t bring some kind of money to get them in there. That’s the bad part about it. It’s been like that for years.”
But Clements isn’t inclined to give up on his dream, especially after the biggest win of his racing career. If his career had come to an end after Sunday, he still wouldn’t be satisfied.
“I don’t think I would be pleased until I got that break and that’s what I’m still working on,” Clements says.
But before he can continue to do that at Darlington in his tribute to his grandfather, he’s going to enjoy the perks of being a first-time winner as long as he can.
“I don’t think I’ve bought a meal yet this week so far,” Clements says. “Hopin’ to continue that streak.”