KBM hoists Atlanta trophy, but teamwork tranquility runs in short supply

HAMPTON, Ga. — The benefits of teamwork might often make the dream work, so the saying goes, but it sometimes produces nightmares when thing go awry. Kyle Busch Motorsports’ latest dream sequence had moments of a restless, fitful sleep after a victorious but contentious Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Corey Heim, a 19-year-old Georgia native, notched his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in Saturday’s Fr8 208, but it came at the expense of Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Chandler Smith, who went from first at the white flag to a fourth-place finish at the checkers. Smith had led the previous 20 laps before Heim took command for the final circuit.

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Further muddling the team dynamic, Heim’s decisive push past Smith came from another KBM campaigner — John Hunter Nemechek, who was two laps down but racing in the lead pack after early trouble. So while the other two KBM mates gave Heim’s No. 51 Toyota congratulatory nudges on the cool-down lap, Smith suggested the team harmony was in need of some counseling, saying, “We need to talk.”

“I mean, we go with the mindset where it was speedway racing today, was it not?” said Smith, who won two weeks ago in the Truck Series’ stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “So, went in with the mindset of, we’ve gotta stick with teammates, teammates are gonna win this race, yada yada yada. I was the only KBM teammate today. Corey helped me one time, but any other time, we never helped each other. If anything, we screwed each other. I’m the only one that really helped, and I’m not saying that to toot my own horn, I’m just being real.”

Smith said the organization had a pre-race huddle to talk strategy, predicting that Atlanta’s reconfigured layout would race more like a superspeedway. That meant a focus on using the aerodynamic draft as a helper, allowing KBM’s three-truck effort to move forward together.

2022 March19 Chandler Smith 2 Main Image
2022 March19 Chandler Smith 2 Main Image

Smith said those plans were largely abandoned after the green flag waved, and his spicy radio chatter said as much after a two-truck tandem with Heim broke apart after a mid-race restart.

“I just don’t understand the thinking and the process behind it,” Smith said. “We all had a meeting before the race on working together, just like we did at Vegas. We didn’t even relatively even try to do that today, so it’s just really irritating because I’m a big believer in we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do that. I mean, I was all on board with it all day, and then it comes to a point where I keep getting screwed over. It’s like, is it worth it? I just need to look out for our group at this point, so I don’t know.”

Heim, who was making just his fifth Truck Series start, defended the ending to his breakthrough victory.

“I think the beginning goal of the day for KBM was for a KBM truck to get to Victory Lane, so that was exactly what happened,” he said. “Nobody got wrecked and I didn’t see anything wrong with what I did at the end there. It’s my career, it’s my own path, and I’m trying to win races. Chandler did a great job of defending what he could, but like you mentioned, he was a complete sitting duck, which is totally true.

“You know, the runs you get here are insane and you just can’t really do much about it instead of trying to block, and he did but I just was ready for it. I kind of had my own game plan in my head at the end there for pulling that kind of block. So yeah, I feel like the beginning goal of the day was for a KBM truck to be in Victory Lane and luckily it was me.”

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Smith didn’t mention him by name, but Nemechek played a bigger role in the outcome than a 24th-place finisher normally would. He had recovered to a competitive pace after an early wall scrape knocked him back in the order. “I want the organization to win,” Nemechek later told FOX Sports. “That’s pretty much it.”

Smith had a different version of events.

“The lapped truck ended up just dictating the finish there. He shoved him right out, right by me,” Smith said. “I mean, if it wasn’t him, it would have been a different result more than likely. I don’t know. We won’t ever know, but it could have been. That’s the thing about it. A lapped truck just shoved the guy out that won the race and then blocked everybody else that had a run, too. I get it. We’re teammates. You’re trying to help them out, but you (expletive) your other teammate. Whatever.”