NASCAR Cup Series
John Hunter Nemechek 1-on-1: 'I want to be the guy that's respected in the garage'
NASCAR Cup Series

John Hunter Nemechek 1-on-1: 'I want to be the guy that's respected in the garage'

Published Apr. 11, 2024 4:27 p.m. ET

John Hunter Nemechek, the son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek, has returned to the Cup Series for his first full season at the top NASCAR level since 2020.

After finishing 27th in the standings for Front Row as a rookie in 2020, he finished third and fifth in the truck standings with seven combined wins in 2021-2022 and then won seven Xfinity races before finishing fourth in the standings in 2023.

Now he's driving for Legacy Motor Club and was 17th in the standings before a broken brake rotor at the end of Martinsville dropped him to 19th in the standings and 31 points behind the current playoff cutoff.

The 26-year-old Nemechek spoke with FOX Sports last week prior to practice and qualifying at Martinsville about this season's start, his prowess at Texas Motor Speedway (site of this weekend's race) and driving for some of the icons of the sport.


You are hovering right there around the playoff spot right now. Are you looking at the points every week? Is that something of a focus for you?

I don't know if it's so much of a focus for me. I definitely feel like it's in the back of my mind. Obviously, I want to make the playoffs, and I feel like every driver here in the garage wants to make the playoffs. Right now, I'm not trying to focus too much on points. Really, I'm just trying to focus on getting our Toyota Camry XSEs to where we feel like they need [in order] to be competitive every single week and trying to get strong results. Points come with strong results. More focus is on just trying to run well every single week.

This No. 42 car was not in that position last year. So what do you feel like you're doing well to put yourselves in that position?

I feel like we've had a decent start to the year. I wouldn't say it's a great start to the year, but we've had a decent start. We had a couple of top-10 runs. We've got some stage points, which really hasn't happened with this group a lot. We've just been consistent every week, I guess — not consistent to where we want to be in the top-15, top-10 every week, but we've just been able to be consistent, put races together and run all the laps so far. It's nice coming out of Daytona with a strong [seventh-place] finish and having a couple of other strong finishes that could have been way worse and put us in a very big points deficit.

You have three wins at Texas — two Xfinity, one truck. What about that track fits you?

I don't know, Bob. I've done really good there for the last, I think, three or four years — we should have won three Xfinity races in a row or whatnot. I only got to run on the old asphalt once [prior to 2017], but ever since the repave, I don't know what it is there, we've just been fast. I guess good trucks, good Xfinity cars. I think it just plays into my driving style to kind of what I grew up racing — it's a lot of momentum, trying to stay in-throttle for as long as possible, two completely different ends of the racetrack. Plus with the PJ1/resin that has been applied in the past, I feel like I've gotten decent at being able to move around and search and find grip and trying to make different lines work. I enjoy being able to do that, and being able to do that at Texas has just made me successful, I guess.

Note: No PJ1 or resin will be applied to the track this weekend.

John Hunter Nemechek on Texas Motor Speedway and why he feels it suits his racing style

You had run in Cup a few years ago. What was the biggest adjustment or change or surprise when you started racing Next Gen cars?

Just the car overall. It's a totally different car [in] how you have to drive them compared to the old car. A lot of my tendencies and habits that came from the truck side and Xfinity side didn't really transfer over into this car. I haven't been able to make a ton of speed with that curve currently. I'm trying to get used to the car. I feel like the racing is still the same as it was when I came into the Cup deal for Year 1. I feel like the biggest thing there for me was just trying to adapt to the car, how it drives in dirty air, different things of that sort.

You have driven for your family team, where you didn't know what was going happen next week, with teams scrounging for funding, with teams that are very well funded. What's more difficult? What's more pressure?

I feel like from the outside world, more pressure is when you go to a team that has significant funding and is known to be capable of winning races every single week. But from an internal perspective and my personal self, I feel like coming to a team that — I don't want to say is underfunded but may not be at the capacity that some of these other teams are with notes and history and experience and different things of that sort and kind of in their building years, I feel like that's more pressure on myself, just from trying to exceed expectations, continue to get better every single week and continue to help the organization grow. When you go to a team that I feel like is already proven, you just have to go prove yourself. You don't have to prove the team as well. There's a lot of weight on a driver's shoulders when they get into that position in my opinion.

You've driven for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs. Now you drive for Jimmie Johnson and The King (Richard Petty). So which is more pressure?

More pressure was driving for Kyle for sure. Driving for KB was a lot of pressure to go out and succeed. Driving for Coach (Gibbs) was super special. Coach is more, I would say, of a motivator and a coach in that aspect — if things don't quite go right, he definitely knows what to say in those instances. We're just getting into really our relationship driving for Jimmie and The King and Maury [Gallagher]. But overall, Jimmie has been great to work with. He pushes me to be better every single week. But he's also there for me being able to ask questions and trying to gain knowledge, which I think is really neat as well. It's great so far. But from the pressure standpoint, Kyle, for sure.

John Hunter Nemechek on the pressure of driving for accomplished drivers

You talked about having a driver to ask questions. Not only do you have Jimmie, but you have Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne at Legacy [as driver coaches] as well. What's it like having all these drivers around? Are they picking you apart every week and telling you everything you did wrong or what?

It's constructive criticism. I wouldn't say that they're picking me apart. I'm just trying to learn tendencies and really kind of be able to utilize them as a source of information and things that they did during their career to help them through different situations — some on the driving aspect, some off-track from being in meetings and different things to look at. Having Matt and Trevor as part of the fold, it's been amazing. Matt was actually my ride up here to Martinsville. So that was nice. And Trevor, being able to work with him on a weekly basis has been amazing as well. I'm looking forward to continuing the relationship with those guys, and hopefully growing stronger every single week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his podcast, I think, said that he likes you, but sometimes he questions your craft. And I think other people would say that, too. Is that a fair assessment? Or is it more that you did drive for a team that was week-to-week so that is the way you grew up driving?

I grew up racing for my opportunity every single week. And I think that my craft has changed quite a bit since then. This year, I feel like has been a test for me every single week, trying to learn different aspects of this car, how to race, how to get around guys, different things of that sort. So I feel like this year has been another learning year for me. But you go back and you look at the last few years in the truck series and the Xfinity Series, that's kind of the guy that I want to be. I want to be the guy that's respected in the garage and can race hard on a weekly basis. I didn't know Dale said that, but I guess that's good. I'm not going to take any bad out of that.

Note: Earnhardt said this on his April 2 Dale Jr. Download podcast: "John Hunter has good talent. There are some things about his driving and his race craft that are a little raw. If he cleaned those up, the sky's the limit."

'My craft has changed quite a bit since then...' - John H. Nemechek on having his race craft questioned at times

I guess when you're running up front, you're always going to be in the middle of stuff. And so there's always going to be a question of how hard you push things?

It's different when you run up front compared to running mid-pack, compared to running in the back of the pack. Everyone gets into something at some point. It's kind of how you deal with it and move on from it and learn from it.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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