By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When finances put a driver in a box where their career’s in jeopardy, race wins can bolster a season. That was the case for John Hunter Nemechek in 2016 when he scored back-to-back Truck Series victories when primary sponsor Fire Alarm Services jumped aboard.
Nemechek has made the most out of the deal and have gone up the NASCAR ladder ever since and fast forward into 2019, he’s now a full-time driver at GMS Racing’s No. 23 Chevrolet Camaro in the Xfinity Series, competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
The 21-year-old has seen this opportunity of joining GMS as a blessing in disguise and can’t express enough how proud he’s able to represent FAS in the sport that he hopes it’ll continue in the future.
“The backing that we have right now from our sponsors and everyone that’s involved to make this whole deal happen, I’m very proud to represent and very blessed to be a part of it,” Nemechek told Motorsports Tribune. “FAS has been with me the last three-and-a-half years and they continue to move up the ladder with me. I can’t thank them enough for believing in me and giving me the opportunity of having my back and letting me represent the brand well. Hopefully, we can continue the trend upwards.
“We always had a goal in mind and that was keep moving up, and that goal is the still the same. We want to be in the Cup Series one day, but there was a time in the Truck deal that we didn’t know if we were going to be able to finish the rest of the year, but we got back-to-back wins at Gateway and Iowa. It was a blessing in disguise, and everything happens for a reason.”
Like several drivers in the Xfinity Series, they’ve made the most out of being a part-time competitor, running for top tier teams, and Nemechek made the most out of his stint at Chip Ganassi Racing, scoring a win at Kansas and scored six top-fives and 11 top-10s in 17 starts in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
“It really comes back to making sure that you do the best you can each and every week,” Nemechek on running part-time. “You only have limited opportunities, so our only chance to shine is to go out there and win, so you have to take advantage of that. Luckily, we were able to get to victory lane and get my first Xfinity win. I knocked that off the checklist for last year, and hopefully we can knock off quite a few more this year as well.”
During the offseason, he signed with the Gallagher family owned team that has had success at superspeedways since coming to the series in 2016. Meanwhile at his old team, controversy surrounding one of CGR’s sponsors forced the team to shut down, affecting Ross Chastain’s NXS plans in the progress.
As a result of the sudden circumstances, Nemechek will go down as the final Xfinity Series winner from the Ganassi camp, and while he’s excited to be a part of GMS, he looks back at last season with fond memories.
“I’m happy where I’m at and excited to be where I’m at,” said Nemechek. “We ran really well in Chip’s stuff last year and had a shot of the Owners Championship, and we came up one spot short. I grew really close to all the guys at Chip Ganassi Racing on the Xfinity team. From crew chief Mike Shipplet to the engineer and all the personnel that worked in the shop.
“To see a team shut down, you don’t never want to see that because you want to go out and battle against them. I was excited to be able to go and do that, battle against your guys that you had last year. Unfortunate circumstances happened, and you never want to see people lose their jobs that’s for sure. Very blessed to be where I’m at and the opportunity that I have.”
Knowing the team’s recent success at superspeedways, Nemechek said he’s excited to run the No. 23 that has one superspeedway victory when Spencer Gallagher scored his only career win at Talladega and hopes he can start the season off with a season opener victory at Daytona, a race his father, Joe Nemechek, won in 1998 when John Hunter was barely six months old.
“Their superspeedway cars are fast. Everyone knows that and I know that, and I’m excited that I’m the one behind the wheel, holding the steering wheel,” said Nemechek. “I have to do my job as a driver and make sure that we’re there at the end and have an opportunity to win the race. I’m really looking forward to have that opportunity of being at the front and having a shot. That’s all you can ask for.”
Nemechek ran 18 laps during opening practice with his fourth lap putting him up third fastest with a time of 45.871 seconds (196.202 mph) which was 0.033 seconds off Chase Briscoe’s pace.
He said that adjustments were made to make him comfortable in the car and hopes it can translate to a strong campaign.
“I got comfortable and made some minor adjustments on some interior stuff that I thought that we needed fix and looking forward to race and see how it happens,” Nemechek explained. “This is really the first race of the year for us to gauge on where we’re at speed wise, and hopefully we’re going to be the ones on top.”