By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — Throughout the 71-year history of NASCAR competition, there hasn’t been a father-and-son combination that’s raced at least once together in all three national touring series.
That’ll change in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as father Joe and son John Hunter Nemechek, who’s making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut, will have a landmark opportunity to race in Cup for the first time.
The last time a Cup race had a father-son duo was the 2005 fall Atlanta race when both Bobby and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. raced each other. It also turned out to be Bobby Sr.’s final Cup race, finishing 30th while Bobby Jr.’s wound up 39th. John Hunter was eight years old and Joe finished 18th that day.
Sunday’s race at Texas won’t be the only time the Nemechek family will be making history as both will run triple duty at ISM Raceway. Another feat that’s hasn’t been done before.
“I don’t know anybody that’s done it. I’m so thankful to NASCAR for the opportunity that I’m still able to be here,” Joe said. “Get calls from some of these teams that want me to come in and help us evaluate where we are. Even though our cars are different, you just do it.
“I’ve been doing this for 29 years now, which is a long time and I still love it. I wish I didn’t love racing so much. (Getting to Cup) was my ultimate goal when I started racing and since John Hunter started racing, he wants to get into Cup.
“Someday, I’m sure he wants to drive a Formula One car and do all that other good stuff but right now, driving a Cup car is a great opportunity. I think it’s special to him too that I’m here. Not many parents get to do anything and for me it’s a very special moment.”
Furthermore, when Joe takes the green flag for the Cup race at Phoenix, he’ll surpass Richard Petty on the all-time national starts list at 1,185 starts. A stat Joe wasn’t aware until recently.
“Getting up there tying Richard Petty’s all-time start record is going to be pretty cool,” Joe said of his upcoming milestone. “To me, Richard was a legend. I was just starting when he was kind of getting done in the first couple of years in my career. That just shows that I’ve started a lot of races.
“You don’t think about that as a racer. When you get done with one, you’re focused on the next one. It’s hard to look back at all that. I’ve had a great career and I still enjoy it.”
John Hunter finds the milestone at Phoenix amazing and pleased to not only be a part of the task, but also witness Joe make history in next Sunday’s Cup race.
“For myself to be a part of this and compete in all three series against him is pretty special for father-and-son and the whole family,” John Hunter commented. “There’s not many other sports that father-sons can say that but next week being able to make history and run all three together is pretty special.
“We’ve never talked about racing at the Cup level together but once everything came into fruition, it’s pretty neat to say we’re going to be racing each other in all three races.”
Sunday will mark Joe’s 1,182nd race (672 in Cup, 443 in Xfinity and 67 in Gander Outdoors Truck Series) as the opportunity of running with John Hunter almost didn’t happened.
Joe was initially going to be at Texas to support his son. Then Premium Motorsports called Joe on Wednesday that he’ll be subbing for Reed Sorenson and will run the blue No. 15 Xchange of America Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
The four-time Cup winner said he’s glad to be in the “Lone Star State” and suddenly racing against him, knowing John Hunter’s Cup debut will give him tremendous experience.
“It’s cool he’s getting his first start. There’s so much to learn in this series,” Joe said. “He had a lot of success early. He shows up in a Truck race, he’s one of the guys to beat. Xfinity, when he was with (Chip Ganassi Racing), he had an opportunity to win every one of them.
“This year has been more of a struggle, it’s just part of it. The team he’s with right now, he’s gaining a lot of experience substituting right now. It’s all so valuable and just trying to educate him on that. He’s used to being able to go fast and have an opportunity to win every week.
“Now this is kind of a whole different objective right now what he’s doing so he’s just having to learn that. I wasn’t racing cars when I was 22 but when I first started, you’re a go-getter. You want to go but I know he’ll drive the wheels of that thing and they want him to go. Again, he’s got to be smart and finish.”
John Hunter’s unexpected debut was a result of the departure of Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft, who will be out indefinitely due to a medical issue.
Tifft’s name remains etched on the car but John Hunter’s name is on the rear windshield. John Hunter hasn’t spoken to Tifft but definitely relied on his FRM teammates Michael McDowell and David Ragan for advice at both the shop and the track.
Circumstances aside, the Xfinity Series regular is looking forward of having the chance to run the sport’s top level, praising his father for grooming him for this shot.
“(Joe) has been a great help for me and my career,” John Hunter said. “He’s been a boss, mentor, adviser, dad and everything else. It’s pretty cool to be out here. Transitioning from NEMCO Motorsports and other organizations, he’s become more of a dad in a sense being able to hang out, smile and take pictures with his son and be a proud of father. It’s pretty neat to see.”
Joe admitted he’ll be aware where John Hunter will be and have fun during the 334-lap race, knowing John Hunter’s No. 36 Speedy Cash Ford Mustang is much better.
While Joe said John Hunter could care less about his whereabouts, but John Hunter responded he’ll know where Joe is running once passing him at the 1.5-mile circuit.
“We’re a competitive family,” John Hunter said. “We love to push each other to the next level.”
Rumors such as the fate of John Hunter’s Xfinity Series team (GMS Racing) being less than ideal after 2019, Joe understands these next three weekends will be important for his son.
“(John Hunter) is going to do the best he can all the time. That’s the way he is and that’s the way I programmed him when he started racing,” Joe said. “How important are they? I think they’re important, but everybody knows he can wheel a race car. If you get the equipment, he’s going to go like heck man. You got really pull back on the reigns to slow him down a bit.
“He’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do next year. I have no idea. There’s a lot of stuff in the works but I just don’t know.”
John Hunter mentioned the last bit of 2019 can be important but doesn’t want to be the center of attention for all the wrong reasons such as taking out a playoff driver.
“I’m just here to gain experience,” John Hunter said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for me to get some Cup experience and learn as much as possibly can.”
Live coverage of the Nemecheks racing each other in the premiere series at Texas will air live at 3:00 pm EST on NBCSN.