JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK, No. 20 Mobil 1 Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
You come into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs as a huge favorite. Does that excite you or cause some extra stress?
“To be honest, that’s just extra noise to us. We’re not focused on being the favorite to win the championship or not. We’re focused on running every race how we do and going out and race every single racetrack every single week. Putting an emphasis on trying to win, but also coming out with good weeks to not let bad ones affect your playoff run. I don’t think the standpoint of being a favorite or not really affects us or the mental side of things.”
With the successful season you’ve had thus far this year, is anything less than making the Championship 4 a disappointment in your eyes?
“I think so. I think the way we’ve run this year and with the speed we’ve had, we want to make the final four and definitely feel we have a shot to do so. We just can’t beat ourselves to get there.”
Looking ahead to next year a little bit, have you already started integrating yourself at Legacy Motor Club?
“No, I’m focused on this year. Once we signed with Legacy, it’s full focus back for me on the Xfinity Series, Joe Gibbs Racing and trying to go to win this 2023 Xfinity Series championship.”
When you look at the way champions are now crowned compared to what it used to be, is that something you still value or is it a matter of winning races and whatever happens, happens?
“I think that winning a championship is winning a championship, no matter which way you do it. No matter how good you are or how it works out, you’re still a champion. That’s what the record books say. For us, times have changed, and a lot has changed since my father (Joe Nemechek) won the Xfinity Series in 1992. If you base it off points, we got our butts beat by Austin Hill for the regular season championship. Our strong point has been to have speed and win races this year, and we’re looking forward to doing so here in the playoffs.”
Big picture Xfinity Series question, you’ve had the good fortune to drive a lot of different race cars the last decade. Where does the Xfinity Series car rank?
“I enjoy the Xfinity car. It’s a lot of fun to drive with the low downforce package. You’re slipping and sliding around, always searching for grip, able to run a bunch of different grooves at different racetracks, and the aerodynamic effects of being behind another car aren’t as big as some of the other series I’ve run in. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Xfinity Series racing.”
You know what you’re doing next year, but Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t announced a replacement yet for you. Do you feel any angst from your team on that uncertainty?
“No, I don’t think so. I think all the guys are focused on this year and a lot of them are set to be at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for the future. I think for them, it’s about being a part of a great organization and working for some great people and putting a lot of wins together over the years with a lot of great drivers. I wouldn’t say there’s anxiety about next year. It’s all focused on this year so we can go out and achieve a solid playoff and championship run.
Last year, you went into the playoffs not exactly knowing what you’d be doing the following year. This year, you do. Is there a difference in mindset?
“No distractions, you’re 100% focused on the task at hand and you don’t really have to think about anything else with your future. If anyone tells you they’re not worried about their future, I feel like they’re lying to you. They always have that thought at the back of their head of what they may do. Knowing the plan and having everything set provides more time and availability to focus on what you need to be focusing on.”
What would it mean to you to be the first father-son duo to win the Xfinity Series championship if you were to match your father’s feat?
“I didn’t know we’d be the first, but that’s a super cool stat. It’s neat to see the father-son drivers that have been able to race against each other or at the same level throughout their careers. For me to win an Xfinity Series championship would mean a lot, and to be the first father-son duo to accomplish that would be special. Hopefully we can do it. That’s what we’re here for.”
With the news this morning about the return of stage breaks at the Charlotte ROVAL, what are your thoughts and how does that change strategy?
“It’ll change strategy, it always does. You’re not just pushing the entire time, you’re able to work on your car, and you’re not pitting under green. I don’t think it matters if you have stage breaks or not. You have to race the race and race the racetrack, focusing on the best possible outcome. It does eliminate a little bit of strategy on when you could jump stages beforehand with cautions and what not. All in all, it’s still the same hard racing.”
Your lone season in the Cup Series was in 2020, where there was little-to-no practice time. How do you think that affected you and how much do you think having that track time next year will help further your development?
“It was hard without any practice, coming into a new car and package I’ve never run — a lot of unknown factors. I feel like we had some good runs and some okay runs. But I think looking forward to next year, getting into the NextGen car again and going to work to figure out this car with practice is helpful to try to learn.”
You had some experience with the NextGen car driving it last year at Homestead. What have you learned about driving the car and how does it differ from what you’re used to with the Xfinity car?
“It’s way different, all different. You can take a lot of things from racing in the past and still apply them. But the way the car handles and how you set it up is all different. It’ll be a learning experience for me for sure, but hopefully we can tackle it well and hit the ground running.”
You talked about your strong points earlier, where do you feel this team needs to improve so you can win the championship?
“Just execute. Road courses haven’t been our greatest strength, but they’re not our worst race tracks. We’ve had some really good runs and some not so great runs, but execution. Not beating ourselves, not getting ahead of ourselves, and staying in contention every single week.”
How has having children changed your life?
“(Laughs) It’s changed my life a lot. The things that you focus on, the things you used to think were important aren’t as much anymore. For me, it’s been a lot of growing in a very short period of time. It definitely makes you think about different situations and the thoughts you have toward situations like dwelling on a bad race, like one we had at Daytona where we wrecked — I was very frustrated. First thing that happens when I get back to the bus, Aspen (daughter) comes up and says ‘I love you.’ That puts a smile on your face and helps you move onto the next week.”
Do you carry anything from your kids in the car?
“Aspen hasn’t given me anything yet. Our pre-race ritual is that she always gives me a hug and kiss, and she has her fist bump. She loves giving fist bumps. Just chatting with her before I get in the car, with her saying ‘Go Fast!’ That kind of sticks with you. When she says to go fast or go win, you better go do it! She won’t forget it.”
Where did the fist bump come from?
“I don’t know. When she was young, Taylor (wife) and I taught her how to high-five, fist bump, and how to shake hands. The first time she was at the track, and we won, we taught her how to hold up the number one sign. We’ve taught her a lot from then, but ever since, she leans to the fist bump. She loves it.”
You’ve been a part of the sport forever. When’s the first time you remember going to Bristol and what was your reaction/any memories?
“Going there as a kid, I was probably 4 or 5 years old the first time, and one of the first memories was that we raced scooters around the motorhome lot. There were a few of us drivers’ kids that grew up together and went to Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) and such. We also always got to sing the National Anthem at the fall race, which was iconic. To have that tradition still happening today is unique. As far as racing there, I started at 16 or 17-years-old. Walking into that place, it’s amazing. You don’t really know what to think the first time you go in there with the stands filling up, the energy inside the place, and racing under the lights. It’s super unique and special, and probably one of the coolest venues we go to in terms of energy standpoint. It’s not your typical short track, that’s for sure.”
What was doing the National Anthem at Bristol at a young age like with Motor Racing Outreach?
“I always remember that rehearsals went great as no one was afraid of anything, but once we got out there to go sing, everyone got real quiet. It was a very fun thing to be a part of and something as a tradition that MRO, NASCAR, and Bristol have kept going. And to have kids who will be a part of it in the future is unique and special as well.
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