Jeremy Clements: “I just want to be competitive”

Jeremy Clements

Jeremy Clements posted a solid season in 2019. The Spartanburg, SC native’s four top-10 finishes were more than he had scored in any single season of his career. Further, the driver who completed his ninth season as a NASCAR Xfinity Series regular had an average finishing position of 16.9 which was another career best. And consider too that the small family operation’s success came after getting a late start going into the campaign compared to their competitors.

In the end, Clements managed a 14th place finish in the final Xfinity Series standings with a best race finish of fourth coming at the Bristol Motor Speedway in August. It is further worth noting that all of the Jeremy Clements Racing team’s top-10 efforts came in July or later which indicates the organization was picking up speed as the season progressed. Indeed, from the Charlotte race in May to the Indianapolis race in September they tallied 13 top-15 results over a fifteen race stretch.

Clements and crew upgraded their fleet of race cars just before the season started last year with machines brought over from Chip Ganassi Racing. However, those cars did not make it to the JCR shop until the season was less than a month from kicking off.

“I think it was us just figuring out the cars that we had got, finally,” Clements said of his team’s improvement throughout the 2019 campaign. “We were just making things work. We don’t ever get to test or anything and when we show up at the race track most of the time we only have one set of tires for our team to go through in practice. You can’t figure out much like that. It’s hard to get things just right but I think at the end of the season we were getting better at that.”

The addition of full-time crew chief Andrew Abbott also improved the 35-year-old driver’s performance throughout the season.

“Andrew started the week of Watkins Glen full time, which was good,” Clements explained. “He was able to come to our shop where before he wasn’t coming to the shop so when we would meet him at the race track it was just a matter of ‘we’ve got what we’ve got’. He was coming to the shop and setting them up himself(after Watkins Glen) with me and him going over some stuff and coming up with a notebook.”

Clements feels as though the team’s performance will continue to improve as they get even more experience with their fleet.

“There’s different setups where we have more speed for a lap or a few laps then it goes away pretty quickly then there are other setups we found that are kind of the opposite,” he pointed out. “Finding that balance between those is the key. It definitely got better so we’ve got to find that balance of having speed and longevity in these races because there were a few races that I wasn’t proud of because we had speed then just dropped way off but there were some that were better than that. It’s just tough when you can’t test and we have no engineering. Those big teams have all of that but we do not.”

Jeremy Clements at Atlanta in one of the new cars acquired from Chip Ganassi Racing

The Clements team took delivery of their cars from Chip Ganassi Racing so late last year that much of the first half of the season was spent scrambling to get organized and find the setups that worked best with those rides. But once they did get into a rhythm with the new vehicles, JCR made the most of them.

“We got them so late last year, toward the end of January,” Clements recalled. “Just getting them together was really hard. We actually ran the same two cars all year long except at Daytona, Talladega, and the road courses. It was the same two everywhere else from Charlotte to Texas to Bristol. Turning those cars around and keeping them together is hard to do in the span of all these races all over the country. As we went on, we were able to make them better.”

2020 does not look to be so frantic in the early going which gives the popular racer hope that his success from the second half of last year can be carried forward.

“I’m optimistic, of course everybody is, but I do feel better this year than I did last year because we’ve got these cars and we’ve gone through them,” he offered. “We’re going to be way more prepared than we were last year. I think we should be able to be even better than we were last year. And it helps that we’re starting out with Andrew as our crew chief on a full-time basis. Everything is in place where last year we didn’t even have cars until the end of January and we didn’t have a full-time crew chief.”

Considering his team’s limited resources, Clements realizes that there are some racing venues that offer a greater chance for top finishes than others.

“I would definitely say it’s at the short tracks and the road courses,” the driver replied when asked what tracks give him the best chance for success. “Those are my best chances to be up there. We did finish sixth at Kansas last year but that was one of those deals where we hit it just right. Sometimes that just happens but I wish we could figure out how to do that every time. We had a really good run at Bristol and we were fast at the road courses but sometimes the strategy just didn’t work out.”

Clements racing alongside Gray Gaulding

But there is one type of track the small team doesn’t overspend its resources on.

“And then you’ve got the big speedways where sometimes you can have a super fast car and get wrecked pretty early,” Clements said of Daytona and Talladega. “We’ve never had the best speed at those places because with what money and resources we do have we don’t put it into that because it’s only three races and it’s such a crap shoot. We don’t even really have a full blown restrictor plate engine, I’ve never had that. It’s not my favorite to go there because we don’t usually qualify the best and we just try to ride around and I’m not a fan of that.”

One change that has Clements excited leading into the 2020 season is the news that the Xfinity Series race slated for July 4th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be held on the track’s road course rather than on the traditional oval. The 2017 Road America winner earned finishes of 11th or better in each of the four road course races on the Xfinity Series schedule this past year.

“I think it’s awesome,” Clements said. “It changes things up because people complain sometimes that the oval track there is boring, but that track has always been like that and we can’t help that. It’s what we were given. NASCAR and (IMS owner)Roger Penske are changing things up because they’ve heard the complaints. It will give our team a better shot at being able to kiss the bricks. The only drawback is that it costs our team more money because you’ve got road course transmissions, rear end gears, really good brakes that cost tons of money, but that’s the only negative. I would rather go somewhere that I have a shot at winning.”

During the off-season NASCAR announced a change designed to save money for Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series teams. In races not serving as companion events to the NASCAR Cup Series there will no longer be live pit stops as part of those races.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Clements insisted. “It’s going to save us roughly $6,500-7,000 per race. I think that’s pretty dang cool. I’ll let Andrew handle how he plans all of that for us. I’m just going to pit when they tell me to pit. I know there will be some different strategies going on but I look forward to seeing how it works. I know that not having to pay a pit crew and fly those guys to those races and pay for rental cars and hotels will be good.”

Jeremy Clements at Bristol Motor Speedway

As for his expectations going into a new season, Clements is certain of what he wants to accomplish.

“I want to win and I want us to make the playoffs. I want to get more top-10s and obviously more top-5s too. I know that sounds pretty greedy but I just want to win and do the best we can. We don’t want to wreck race cars because that, at the end of the day, will keep us in this business that I want to stay in. I love racing and I don’t know how long I’ll get to do this so I don’t take any of this for granted. We just want to keep making it work and keep our employees employed. I just want to be competitive because I’m not the type of racer who just wants to be there.”

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association

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