Regular-season champion John Hunter Nemechek moved a step closer to the more coveted title by storming back to win Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series Round of 12 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The victory provided the Joe Gibbs Racing driver with an automatic berth in the Round of 8, joining JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier who won the opener last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, and no pressure heading into the first-round playoff finale at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL on Saturday, Oct. 7.

Allgaier was dominant in this race as well, leading 134 of the 200 laps, but Nemechek was able to get past him and then playoff driver Parker Kligerman of Big Machine Racing with seven laps remaining to secure his series-high seventh win of the season. It also was his second Xfinity Series win at Texas Motor Speedway with his other coming in 2021.

“My goal coming into today was to lock ourselves into the next round,” Nemechek said. “Our road courses haven’t been very great with me this year. Joe Gibbs Racing as an organization has been really good on road courses, but going into the ROVAL and not having to worry about that is definitely a relief. We are still going to go there and try to play strategy, try to win the race and get some more Playoff points, but focus on Vegas, Miami and Martinsville and then on to Phoenix.”

The 12th and final caution of the day set up a restart with 10 laps remaining and Allgaier leading. He maintained the advantage until he was challenged by Kligerman on the backstretch with eight to go.

As Allgaier and Kligerman battled for the lead, they appeared to make light contact that led to both cars getting loose. Nemechek, who restarted third, pounced on the opportunity by immediately getting by Allgaier and then past Kligerman on the frontstretch with seven laps remaining. Nemechek, who led twice for 38 laps, cruised from there en route to a 1.005-second victory over Kligerman.

“I messed up that final restart. It bounced out of third gear,” Nemechek said. “That one was on me. I knew that I had to push hard and try to recover right there, but hats off to the 20 team, Joe Gibbs Racing. It is absolutely amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish so far this year and I don’t think we are done yet.”

Allgaier was not pleased with Kligerman’s move and it cost both of them a chance at the victory.

“We put ourselves in good position,” Allgaier said. “That last caution kind of hurt us because we didn’t have tires, but still thought we’d do a good job. 

“Parker, when I went and I talked to him, said I squeezed him. I felt like I left him plenty of room there knowing he’d go to the bottom, and he drove it in super, super deep into [turn] three. And he’s been around the sport long enough to know what’s going to happen. Just disappointed. Not only did it mess up battling for second it put us way up in the marbles.”

Countered Kligerman: “Had a great run, got to him [Allgaier] and I don’t know how much we got squeezed or didn’t. I thought I could clear him super easily, but I got super loose. Feels like I got choked, he says he gave a lot of room. I’ll have to look at it.’

Allgaier and Kligerman led a parade of playoff drivers as the group secured the top eight finishing positions. Rookies Sammy Smith of Joe Gibbs Racing and Chandler Smith of Kaulig Racing took third and fourth, respectively, while Allgaier recovered to round out the top five.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer finished sixth and was followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed to complete the playoff sweep of the top-eight finishing positions.

Allgaier started on the pole and from the outset it appeared that he could go wire to wire and get his second playoff win in two weeks. He won the first two stages in dominant fashion, leading 79 of the 90 laps.

In the third and final stage, Allgaier was pushed out of the racing line from behind by Chandler Smith with 86 to go. Allgaier saved the car but dropped to mid-pack while Nemechek and Custer were in position for the win. However, Allgaier took advantage of a timely caution with 45 laps remaining that moved him back up front while Nemechek and Custer got caught in the pits and restarted at the back. But it would be the two final cautions that cost Allgaier, who was out of fresh tires and the restarts allowed the field to tighten up on him and eventually overtake him.

The Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 also was costly to some of the playoff contenders with finishes of 24th or worse and more than likely in a need of win at Charlotte to advance. That race will determine which six drivers will join Nemechek and Allgaier in the next round.

Kaulig Racing’s Daniel Hemric currently sits eighth after a 24th-place finish, 17 points behind sixth-place Sammy Smith. Jordan Anderson Racing’s Jeb Burton, who finished 31st due to a suspension issue, is 10th and trails Smith by 36. JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry finished 27th and sits 11th and 27 back. Sam Mayer, Berry teammate, took the biggest hit as a result of an accident on the opening lap. He finished last in the 38-car field and finds himself 51 points behind Smith.

The NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 24 (2:30 p.m. CT on USA Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90, PRN, and 95.9 The Ranch-local). Country Music stars LOCASH will perform Sunday’s pre-race concert at 12:30 p.m. CT on the Machinery Auctioneers Pre-Race Stage located at the start/finish line.

Texas Motor Speedway’s always-busy events schedule is well under way. Upcoming events in 2023 include: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 NASCAR Playoffs weekend (Sept. 23-24), Goodguys’ Summit Racing Lone Start Nationals (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Speedway Children’s Charities Smoke Show (Oct. 11) and Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest (Oct. 19-22). The year wraps up with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.