Nemechek Brings Optimism To Throwback Weekend

Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek (Matthew Thacker/NKP for Toyota Racing photo)

DARLINGTON, S.C. - John Hunter Nemechek is as eager for NASCAR throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway as any race on the calendar.

That feeling is rooted in the return of his Legacy Motor Club teammate, Erik Jones, who missed the past two races following injuries sustained in a crash at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last month.

“Glad to have Erik back,” Nemechek said with a smile on Saturday. 

“Glad that he’s healed up and back in a seat this weekend. [As] a teammate [and as] a driver, you never want to see anyone out of the race car, so [I’m] glad that he’s back.”

Nemechek’s enthusiasm doesn’t end within his team either. The Mooresville, N.C., native has had Darlington circled on his calendar since the NASCAR Cup Series schedule came out.

“[I’m] pretty excited about this weekend. This is one of the racetracks we’ve [targeted] to come to that I feel like I’ve liked,” Nemechek noted.

One of Nemechek’s career milestones occurred at Darlington just four years ago.

“It was my first top-10 in the Cup Series,” Nemechek reflected, confidence entering his voice. “I feel like we should be competitive again … it’s been good to me in the NASCAR [Craftsman] Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series [and] I’ve run well here in a Cup car as well. 

“Hopefully, we can again.”

Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek in action at Darlington Raceway. (Max Corcoran/Race Face Digital photo)

With a new team and a new car since that 2020 event, Nemechek aims to improve on his rookie-year feat.

“[Racing the] Next-Gen car here is gonna be a little different,” he admitted. “[But] the goal is that we can adapt pretty quickly and go have a really great run.”

Nemechek knows that settling into a new car is a challenge. In this case, he’s got resources like notes and film. But in some cases, like that of temporary teammate Corey Heim, there are no notes and drivers have to learn as they go.

“That’s never an easy task,” Nemechek said of being a relief driver. “From the driver’s standpoint, you aren’t really studying [one series’] data while running in another full-time series to the extent that you should if you were running full-time. So when you get that call last-minute to go hop in a car, it’s a full-fledged effort to try and learn as much as you can.”

“Corey definitely has a lot of talent … I do feel good about him and what he’s able to help bring to the table [like] different perspectives.”

Heim served as Nemechek’s teammate at Legacy Motor Club during the course of Jones’ injury. In his two starts, he had a best finish of 22nd at Kansas Speedway. 

His efforts caught the attention of 23XI Racing, who signed him to a one-race deal for Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway in June earlier this week.

“Pumped for Corey and the opportunity he has to go run the 50,” Nemechek said. “He did a great job over the last couple weeks filling in.”

But now, Nemechek’s focus is on his own situation, as he continues to chase his first Cup Series victory. He’s carrying a 1956 Lee Petty scheme aboard his No. 42 Toyota Sunday.

“[The level of competition] in the Cup Series is so much steeper than in Xfinity or Trucks,” he said. “As a young driver, it’s always going to be an adjustment … but add in that we changed [manufacturers] to Toyota in the offseason, and there’s a lot of learning that we’re all still going through as a team.

“You’ve heard [team co-owner] Jimmie [Johnson] say it several times, that the adjustment is taking more time than we hoped, but we’re gaining on it and I’m looking forward to the summer to see what we can do as we keep growing.”

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