Matt Crafton and Christopher Bell swapped the lead four times over the first 111 laps in what looked like a two-truck shootout, as Crafton battled to win his second consecutive Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta.
But neither would find themselves in Victory Lane when the checkered flag flew.
Crafton had led 76 laps coming to the restart with 20 laps to go after the second caution clock expiration of the race, in what looked like a sure-thing for the dominant 2014 Camping World Truck Series champion. It all changed in a flash.
Exiting Turn 2, Bell clipped the left rear panel of teammate Daniel Suarez, who had maneuvered to the outside and into second place. Suarez got turned sideways and made contact with Crafton, who went sideways himself, making heavy head-on contact with the outside SAFER barrier.
The crash forced both Suarez and Crafton out of the race and opened the door for Bell to finish off a strong performance in pursuit of his second career Camping World Truck Series win.
But again, trouble would strike for the leader.
With just eight laps to go and Bell firmly in the lead, his right front tire went down – likely as a result from the earlier contact with Suarez – and a strong impact with the outside wall once again eliminated the leader.
With a golden opportunity presented to him, John Hunter Nemechek made it count. After quietly putting together a solid race all day long, he restarted in the in the front, and with guidance from his crew chief, Jerry Kennon, Nemechek never looked back.
“I was debating on the radio whether I wanted the outside or the inside line,” said Nemechek. “I had restarted on the outside twice there and Jerry (Kennon) came on the radio, and he said 'Bottom, bottom, bottom. Do not restart on the outside.’
“I don’t know what it is about this place, but it’s really slick on the top.”
Nemechek led the race's final two green flag laps to finish off the victory in his first-ever NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the process, he also became the youngest-ever NASCAR winner at Atlanta. With the win, Nemechek secured himself a place in the newly added Chase playoff format in the Camping World Truck Series.
“It’s a great way to get our second win,” said Nemechek. “The pit crew won us this race. I can't thank all those guys enough. It's an unsponsored truck for us again - two times in the winner's circle.”
Leading the way for the six AMS Legends program alumni in the race was Daniel Hemric, who finished fourth. Behind him was Grant Enfinger in fifth, John Wes Townley in seventh, Austin Hill in 12th, Garrett Smithley in 18th, and William Byron in 32nd.
Atlanta’s 2016 NASCAR weekend wraps up with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Sprint Cup Series race Sunday afternoon, with a scheduled 1 p.m. green flag start. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com or contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or (877) 9-AMS-TIX.