Last fall, Jeremy Clements lost his primary sponsor of 10 years, Repairable Vehicles. That was a cause for concern for the small, family-funded team out of Spartanburg, S.C.
But outside of the opening playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Clements’ No. 51 Chevrolet found partners for the final stretch of the 2020 season.
“I‘ve been very fortunate to get every race sponsored and have great partners to piece all of this together to even try to pay for everything it takes,” Clements recently told Jayski.com. “It‘s been good and there‘s been a lot of interest in being on the No. 51 car.”
See, sponsorship is key for Clements and all small teams — and big teams — in the Xfinity Series. In 2019, the team was reportedly working on roughly $300,000 for the duration of the season, a number that should easily be eclipsed this year.
When Repairable Vehicles departed from Jeremy Clements Racing, it opened up opportunities for brands such as All-South Electric, DieCast Kings, First Pacific Funding and Wealth Accelerators to be featured on the No. 51 car. And Clements, who does much of the marketing himself, found new companies that fit his brand.
“All that went really well, I was excited,” Clements said of finding new sponsors. “There‘s been an interest to be on my car, and I feel like we‘re one of the cheapest cars, if not the cheapest car to get on that runs competitively, too.”
Through six Xfinity races this season, Clements has scored three top-10 finishes, with an impressive 13.3 average finish. Otherwise, that’s nearly four positions better than his best average finish in his prior 10 seasons running full time at the Xfinity level (16.9 in 2019).
Clements has a best finish of ninth at Homestead-Miami Speedway, pacing the field for three laps. The No. 51 car rounded out the top 10 at both the Daytona International Speedway road course and Phoenix Raceway. Most recently, Clements restarted on the front row at Atlanta Motor Speedway with less than 50 laps to go, but was involved in a wreck, along with Jeb Burton. Fortunately for JCR, he rebounded to finish 12th.
Surely, Clements is satisfied with the start of his season, currently sitting ninth in the championship standings.
“It’s one of our best starts to the season,” Clements said. “Having three top 10s already is pretty good, I‘m really happy with that. There are some finishes that could have been even better than that. But it‘s racing and circumstances happen.
“But I‘m definitely excited for the start of our season, and I really contribute a lot of that to having Mark Setzer come in as the crew chief over the offseason and being at the shop every day.”
Setzer has been a mainstay in the Xfinity garage since 2014 working with Jamie Dick. From 2018 to 2020, he spent his time at JD Motorsports, often grooming young talent, including Colby Howard, who he crew chiefed 20 races for just last year.
But Setzer said the opportunity to join the No. 51 team was a few years in the making. Finally, the two sides were able to put the deal together for the 2021 season.
“Jeremy had talked to me about it for the last two years, but it wasn‘t a good time to make a change two years ago,” Setzer said. “Before the end of the season last year, Jeremy started talking to me again, and said he would still like to make something happen.”
Since joining the team in late November, Setzer can be seen daily working on the racecars at the shop. That’s something JCR has never experienced before, as Setzer is the team’s first full-time crew chief.
In the past, due to funding reasons, Clements would give his crew chiefs the winter off, opening shop back up at the end of January or early February to prepare for the new season. With that not being the case this year, the results have proven themselves on the track.
“We did a lot of work this winter: Updating cars, updating suspension parts,” Setzer said. “It has really paid off.”
Still, the team is working with just a handful of full-time employees at the race shop, using its own engines.
And even though Clements made the leap of faith to hire a full-time crew chief, he’s not surprised one iota with the on-track success.
“I see our team being a good team, especially as Mark and I gel more together and he figures out what I like in a car and can give me,” Clements said. “I think we‘ll definitely only get better and better as we go.”
In a year of stacked competition in the Xfinity Series, Clements isn’t sure he’s closed the gap fully on the competition. Currently, he sits ahead of Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst, Michael Annett and Noah Gragson in the championship standings, all of whom compete for top-tier teams.
Whether or not Clements’ team can keep the consistency up is yet to be seen. But if the opportunity provides itself to capitalize on those teams’ mistakes, he’ll be ready.
“The problem is, all the cars we race against — smaller teams — have improved,” Clements added. “They‘ve got better engines, their equipment, and they‘re definitely tougher. We‘ve got 20 good cars [in the series].
“And then the big teams — Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing — those two are the best in my eyes. If we have our stuff right, we can be behind them still but not as far back maybe if they‘re having an off day. If they have an off day, we‘ll be right there ready to pounce on them.”
Clements fully believes his team has the capability of being a playoff team, should it be hitting on all eight cylinders.
“I feel like we‘re a top 10 to 12 team, and that‘s what I‘m fighting for every week,” he said. “That‘s what I want us to be.”
Setzer believes the potential of the No. 51 team this season is limitless, and wouldn’t be shocked to see the team make the playoffs.
Ultimately, it might just come down to limiting mistakes and having a points battle against some of the Xfinity Goliaths.
“We want to make the playoffs,” Setzer said. “We‘re competing against 15 or more multi-million [dollar] Cup affiliate teams. We‘re just a little team out of Spartanburg, South Carolina that keeps showing up every week and hopefully can keep having people like yourself talk about us because of the stuff we‘re doing on the track.”