By Dustin Albino

Jeremy Clements Racing is the pride of Spartanburg, S.C. The No. 51 team continues doing its home community proud. 

Jeremy Clements’ race team operates out of a small shop that was built by his grandfather Crawford in the 1970s, who crew chiefed for the likes of Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and A.J. Foyt. Crawford was an engine builder, a craft that he passed down to his son Tony.

“I came along and was going into the shop and was interested in it and took it to heart that this is what I liked to do,” Tony said of how he began to build engines. “I didn‘t care about going to college and all of that, I wanted to build race engines — and race.”

Tony raced early in his career and saw success. He could never make it big. He knew Jeremy had talent, as he won immediately in a four-cylinder vehicle before winning north of 50 races in his second season. After that, Jeremy competed in super late models where he won the track championship at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. 

“He‘s always ready to go faster and has the talent to do that and he can do it in one of [the top] cars,” Tony said. “It‘s just money. Money buys speed.”

Clements has been a full-time competitor in the Xfinity Series since the 2011 season. Last weekend at Watkins Glen International, he made his 454th series start, moving to fifth on the all-time starts list. Of those 454 races, he‘s won twice. 

The No. 51 team is used to being overpowered. It‘s made up of four full-time employees and Tony still builds the team‘s engines. Each season gets more challenging with additional midpack newcomers. Still, Clements made the postseason each of the last two seasons, once on points and once via a victory. 

For just the second time in Jeremy‘s career, he enters this weekend at Daytona International Speedway as the defending winner of the event. That‘s a surreal feeling for the 38-year-old. 

“We haven‘t had a car be able to lead a speedway race,” Jeremy said. “We can be in the middle of it, but a lot of times, that‘s when you will get in the crash when it happens because these guys throw these blocks and at the end, they get impatient and drive through them.” 

In a race that was delayed multiple hours due to inclement weather last year, the green flag didn‘t wave until after 10 p.m. ET. The first couple of stages were relatively green with just four cautions, including the stage breaks, for a single-car crash and debris. 

The final stage was mayhem and Clements wanted no part of it. 

“We were able to play a good strategy,” Clements said. “I would be up there and then I would back out. My spotter got mad at me because there were a few laps to go and I‘m like, ‘They are about to crash bad.‘ There were still 25 to 30 cars left, so I‘m thinking there‘s no way they aren‘t going to crash. We backed out.

“On that restart, there was a 20-car pileup and we went from like 24th to fifth, maybe.”

It was technically a 13-car pileup. And it was one of four wrecks in the final stage that had more than five cars involved. 

On an overtime restart, Clements pushed AJ Allmendinger down the backstretch. The two caught Noah Gragson, who threw a massive block on the No. 16 car. That resulted in another eight-car pile up, the second of its kind after the halfway mark. 

That moved Austin Hill to the lead and Clements was lined up second. The No. 21 Chevrolet, with a screaming ECR engine, had won two superspeedway races earlier in the 2022 season. The odds of Clements outrunning him were insurmountable. 

“I don‘t have a shot” is what Clements thought entering the restart. “Just finish as high as we can, have a good day. When he had problems, I thought, ‘We might pull this one off.‘ I thought positive because the best car is gone.”

Hill had a fuel-pickup problem on the restart and dropped from the lead. 

The No. 51 Chevrolet took control of the race and Clements led with help from Sage Karam. The two got disconnected, allowing the trio of Brandon Brown, Allmendinger and Timmy Hill to enter the chat. When Brown made a move for the lead, Clements blocked high, allowing Allmendinger to get to his inside. But Hill went with a fellow small team and shoved Clements back by Allmendinger. 

“Thankfully, Timmy went with me instead of going with AJ,” Clements said. “AJ had won enough too, and he gets a chance to win every week in such a good car. Very appreciative of Timmy pushing us instead of him.”

Riley Herbst wrecked off Turn 4 coming to the white flag. The caution flew and Clements was declared the winner. 

“Can you guys believe this?” Clements radioed to his No. 51 team after he was told he was the winner.

It was nearly 1:30 a.m. in the morning on August 27, the same date that he won at Road America, five years prior. 

“It was certainly a blessing in disguise with how everything was coming together,” Tony said. “I sat there and looked at how the race was unfolding, and it was playing into our hands. 

“He was put into a circumstance with all the conditions in the way it played out and he handled it like the veteran that he is. I know that he deserves a chance and it‘s nothing about chances or talent anymore, it‘s all about money. We have means to try to come back to give him the opportunity that we can give him; it‘s not like those big teams, but at least we‘re here racing.”

“There are so many people that come into this sport and they‘ve never won a race. He‘s won two.”

The win locked Clements into the postseason for the third time in team history. He celebrated with family and friends until the wee hours of the morning, finally finding a bed around 7:30 a.m. and was back up again at 10 a.m. 

The victory gave the No. 51 team a confidence boost, as it was having a mediocre season compared to its standout 2021 campaign when Clements posted a career-high eight top-10 finishes. 

“A win is a win, it‘s what we‘re here for every weekend,” Clements said. “It‘s what we bust our asses for to get to the racetrack every weekend. This is a tough grind.”

Clements, who once qualified at Kentucky Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing for Kyle Busch, hasn‘t heard from any of the bigger teams in the series since winning at Daytona about potentially hopping into one of their cars. 

“I would like to think that I‘m a driver that could win anywhere,” Clements said. “I want to check the list of winning at an intermediate and a short track, somehow, some way. It‘s tough being a small, independent team and racing with these bigger teams. People are like, ‘When are you going to win again?‘ It‘s tough. It‘s not like I‘m driving a Joe Gibbs Racing car or whatever. It‘s so hard to race against these guys. If I was in equipment like that with people like that, I would be expecting to win every weekend.”

It‘s a challenge to even crack the top 10 this season. It‘s something the No. 51 team hasn‘t done since winning at Daytona last August. Clements felt positioned well at Atlanta Motor Speedway last month but was caught up in an incident. He was quick in practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and was involved in a restart wreck. It‘s been one thing or another that‘s hurt JCR in 2023, as Clements has a best finish of 14th at Circuit of The Americas and ranks 19th in the championship standings. 

But when Clements shows up to Daytona this weekend, he believes he can win again. 

“We‘re liable to get crashed or go for the checkered again,” he said. “It‘s going to be fun and it‘s always an exciting race there. I‘m looking forward to going back there, being a repeat winner.

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