When making a potentially career-altering choice, it’s important to look through and understand the ramifications that can stem from said decision, no matter how bad the worst-case scenario looks on paper.
For John Hunter Nemechek, son of 1992 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Joe Nemechek, that moment came into focus at the conclusion of the 2020 campaign, one of the most prolific and chaotic in the history of NASCAR.
Nemechek had just completed his first full-time season at NASCAR’s top level, where he scored a respectable three top-10 results driving the No. 38 Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports.
The final decision, an unexpected move back to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was eye-opening for several within the industry, as the Mooresville, North Carolina-native willingly stepped back from a ride in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Joining forces with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota Racing Development, the basis of Nemechek’s decision was to place himself in a better environment, one that could return him to the NASCAR Cup Series in a race-winning seat.
Even though he hasn’t returned full-time to the NASCAR Cup Series, yet, the 25-year-old was able to take comfort in the fact that things are going according to plan, standing on the frontstretch as Auto Club Speedway’s final NASCAR winner.
“I feel like this is one of the best opportunities that I’ve had in my lifetime, and I’m just grateful to have the opportunity that I have, and that everything is going to plan,” John Hunter Nemechek told FOX Sports on Sunday. “When I took the step back from the Cup Series, I prayed a lot and I had a lot of conversations with not only God, but a lot of the mentors in the Cup garage, and it seems to be going to plan.”
Since joining Toyota in 2021, Nemechek has competed primarily in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, scoring seven of his 13 career victories over the last two seasons for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
In that two-year span, Nemechek also competed in 16 NASCAR Xfinity Series events for a pair of Toyota-backed organizations, Joe Gibbs Racing and Sam Hunt Racing, both in vastly different positions in terms of on-track performance.
Making a half-dozen starts with Xfinity Series juggernaut Joe Gibbs Racing, Nemechek was able to secure a pair of top-two finishes, including a victory at Texas Motor Speedway in the Fall of 2021.
Arguably more impressive, was his 10-race stint with Sam Hunt Racing, where the second-generation driver was able to bring the organization’s No. 26 Toyota Supra to three top-five finishes, including a team-high third at Richmond Raceway.
During the late stages of last season, all of the strategic positioning that Nemechek had done, in order to one day return to the NASCAR Cup Series, paid off in spades, after Bubba Wallace was suspended for an on-track incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
So, who got the phone call to replace Wallace in the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD at Homestead-Miami Speedway? You guessed it, John Hunter Nemechek.
Nemechek wasted no time in showing the NASCAR Cup Series garage he’s worthy of a seat, placing his No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD at the top of the practice sheets, before backing it up with a fourth-place qualifying result.
Despite a head-turning start to the weekend, an early-race spin and slight contact to the inside wall would see Nemechek relegated to finish of 27th, in his first outing in the NextGen car.
For 2023, Nemechek’s full attention is directed toward winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series title, after getting the call to pilot the No. 20 Toyota GR Supra for Joe Gibbs Racing on a full-time basis.
Even with almost everything changing year-over-year for Nemechek, the mantra of his last two seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports – #Here4Wins – has not been altered, as demonstrated by Sunday’s Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway.
Looking ahead, ‘The Plan’, whether or not it exists beyond a broad goal of making it back to the NASCAR Cup Series, is liable to thrust Nemechek, a second-generation driver cultivated from the roots of family-owned NEMCO Motorsports, into the spot of NASCAR’s most elite.