John Hunter Nemechek is doing more racing in NASCAR this season than ever before. However, he has no shot at a driver’s championship in either the XFINITY or Camping World Truck Series postseasons.
Nemechek, 21, made the jump to Chip Ganassi Racing this season to run a partial schedule in the No. 42 XFINITY car, in addition to driving in Trucks for his family-owned team, NEMCO Motorsports. The year has been one of trials and tribulations for the second-generation driver.
The Truck Series? That’s gone well with a win at Martinsville Speedway early in the season. Nemechek has been in contention to win a handful and has lost a pair of races in the final laps at both Iowa Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway by running out of fuel and blowing an engine.
As for the XFINITY Series, Nemechek has won a pair of stages, led 56 circuits and posted six top-10 finishes in 13 races. Overall, he’d consider it a successful season.
“We started off really good on the XFINITY side, and I had to learn some things and get some experience to try and get a handle on it,” Nemechek told Frontstrech. “We continue to make our stuff better each week we’re at the racetrack.
“Chip [Ganassi, CGR owner] built a great organization and has a great team over there. Pretty much anything I need in order to succeed and make myself better, they’ve given it to me. It’s awesome to have the support of Jamie [McMurray] and Kyle [Larson] and all the teams there. The goal is one team, one goal and that’s to win races and championships.”
Winning races is exactly what the No. 42 team has done in 2018. Larson has four victories in six starts, while Ross Chastain, an XFINITY regular, won in it most recently at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, clinching a spot in the playoffs. Combined, the three drivers have led 851 laps.
For him, it’s a family atmosphere at Chip Ganassi Racing.
“There’s quite a few guys at Chip Ganassi Racing that worked with my dad [Joe Nemechek] back in the day when they first started getting into the sport when I was young,” Nemechek said. “To continue those relationships and already having those relationships established was cool. There are quite a few guys over there that I grew up around the racetrack with, and I was kind of raised in their eyes as well.”
But there’s no getting around it — Nemechek is still inexperienced in the XFINITY ride. Despite the No. 42 having six victories this season, Nemechek doesn’t believe it puts more pressure on him as a rookie. Instead, he knows that the team provides some of the best race cars for a driver to compete in.
“We’ve led laps this year, we’ve been in contention, but we’ve had mechanical failures and stuff not go our way,” Nemechek said. “When you have fast race cars like we’ve had this year and you have tough breaks like we’ve had, it definitely hurts of, ‘damn, we should have won that week,’ or, ‘damn, we had the fastest car.’”
At Kentucky Speedway in mid-July, Nemechek looked to be on pace to win his first XFINITY race. But after winning Stage 2, the battery fell out of the No. 42 car. Prior to that, he led 14 laps in the race, passing Kyle Busch for a playoff point toward the owner’s championship.
Because Nemechek has a fast race car, it’s easy to remain determined even with some of the mechanical failures he’s had this season.
“I’m pretty confident every time I get in that race car,” he continued. “I know it’s going to be fast when we show up to the racetrack, and if it’s not, we’re going to work on it and make sure it’s fast come race time. I’m confident in our team, I’m confident in our ability. From a driver’s standpoint, confidence is huge.”
Even though he’s run in just 13 of 28 races, Nemechek is 17th in the championship standings, ahead of six drivers who have competed in every event. Following Iowa Speedway in July, he was up to 13th. He’s only been in the car once in the nine races since then.
During that time, Nemechek has run in four Truck races. He’s not in the Truck playoffs despite winning this season because in order to be eligible for a championship, a driver must attempt to qualify for every series race.
“I wish I was running full-time on either the Trucks or XFINITY side. At the same time, it’s still a championship and still a chance to get our name recognized,” he said. “From a first-year standpoint, if we can go out and win the [owner’s] championship for Chip, it would be successful.
“It’s definitely incredible to show how many points we’ve racked up this year from a driver standpoint and continuing to try and make our success better. Running for that driver’s championship would be nice this year.”
Starting this weekend at Dover International Speedway, Nemechek is scheduled to be in the No. 42 for the final five races of the season. The Monster Mile is the only venue of the tracks remaining in 2018 where he has prior experience in XFINITY— he finished 14th at Dover earlier this year.
Trying to find a rhythm is something the 21-year-old hasn’t been able to do for the past two months in XFINITY. However, he’s hoping these races lead to a bigger opportunity in 2019.
“I would like to be running for a driver’s championship in XFINITY next year,” Nemechek said. “Just continue the stepping stone and continuing our main goal of being in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.”
- Following the XFINITY Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Saturday (Sept. 29), Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, tweeted that the race will be longer next season. From the initial green flag to the checkered flag on Saturday, it took just over an hour-and-a-half.
- There are 40 teams entered into Saturday’s (Oct. 6) Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway. It’s full of XFINITY regulars, though Ross Chastain, BJ McLeod and JJ Yeley will be pulling double duty.
- Heading into the opening round cutoff race at Dover, Christopher Bell is locked into the Round of 8 by winning at Richmond Raceway. Daniel Hemric is also looking solid, 30 points above the bubble. Tyler Reddick is +21, Cole Custer +14, Matt Tifft+13, Elliott Sadler +11, Justin Allgaier+11 and Ross Chastain +9. Austin Cindric is the first driver on the outside, nine markers back. Ryan Truex is 10th at -24, Ryan Reed -25 and Brandon Jones -28. Truex, Reed and Jones will likely have to win in order to advance to the next round.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.