Friday, Dec 08

Transcript: Justin Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek - Press Conference - Phoenix Raceway

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by John Hunter Nemechek.

Q. Your finish is not indicative of how you ran today and how you raced for the championship. You and Cole were the only guys that led laps. What happened there on the final restart? I guess the car adjustments or whatever, but you raced your ass off.

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: Yeah, I don't know. I got a really good jump off the bottom, had everyone cleared, and I drove in 1 on the bottom just like I had all day, and it just wanted to go straight. Not sure if we started having a right front go down at that point or what, but we ended up blowing a right front at the end and kind of ruined our shot.

It sucks that it comes down to one race and that this is the way it has to end this year in 2023, but nothing to hang our head on. We were there all day, led laps, battled with Cole and Justin and Sam and raced each other super hard.

It sucks that it comes down to one-race finish, but it is what it is. It's the cards that are dealt, and you've got to play it.

We were close. But proud of this team, proud of this 20 group. Proud of myself. We executed really well all year. Winning seven races is no easy task, that's for sure.

As a driver, when you come down to the Xfinity Series or Cup Series, when you start a new season, the goal is to make it to Phoenix to have a shot to race for a championship, and we did that. We put ourselves in contention. We put ourselves in position to do it. Just didn't work out.

Q. John Hunter, chasing Cole down before that last restart, before that last caution came out, what was going through your mind? Obviously Hirschman is coasting you all the way through it. It was really you and him. Seemed like it was going to come down to one of you two. What was going through your mind?

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: Not much. To be honest, I don't know. I was thinking about what I was doing and where he was beating me, where I was beating him, where I was able to make lap time, what my car was doing, what I felt like I needed to do with inputs to try and make it better, trying to get off the corner to get a run to him.

There was a lot going on, passing lap cars. Wasn't really thinking about anything other than trying to go get him and focusing on our car and what I had to do to catch him.

Q. Justin, a lot of adversity to overcome today, spinning early. You charged your way through the field in the first stage. What can you say about the resiliency of yourself, Eddie and Jim Pohlman to keep you in the game and give you a shot to chase this championship?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I about cleared myself and John Hunter on the second lap. I guess I thought it was going to stick. I think my lap was like his last restart. I drove in there expecting it to stick and it didn't quite. I had two options, run right in the side of him which I think we did touch a little bit but I was going to clean us both out or spin it out.

I think the resiliency is I didn't get hit by anybody so that makes it a plus. But just all night we battled back through there. We were on an old set. We actually put that set we spun on back on it so you second-guess some adjustments.

I felt like for me we were a little too loose on the short run. I was bummed to see the last caution. We were gaining three to five tenths a lap on both Cole and John Hunter, and it was going to -- like if you looked at the way it was going to shake out, we were literally going to be right on their bumper whenever we got to the end of the race.

I felt like we did all the right things. We just had way too good of a long run car and not quite good enough on the short run.

I can't say enough about everybody at JR Motorsports. 360 some days ago we hit the reset button. We literally took people and changed roles and changed teams and nobody that was on any car was on somebody else's car the year before.

We called a huge audible. And it takes a lot for a team to reorganize and reshape and come back, and as John Hunter, said put yourself in position at Phoenix.

When you start out at Daytona, your only goal is to make a Final 4, and it's one race. We could have wrecked on lap 2 and been out or we could go all the way down to the end.

I'm probably going to second-guess the amount of space that I gave Cole on that last restart, getting into 3. But on the other side of it, Cole's car was so good on the short run. It was so hard to hold him off. Even when we got three wide down the back, I'm like, man, it's everything I've got. I was blown away that he even got to my left rear off of 2.

All in all, it was a good night for us. Disappointing, but I walked out of here last year really bummed about the way the night went because I felt like I didn't do a good job. Tonight I walked out of here, I gave 100 percent. We did everything right. Just didn't work out for us.

Q. John Hunter, you shared a brief conversation with Joe Gibbs on pit road after the race. What did he say to you, and just generally what has Joe Gibbs Racing meant to you?

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: It's meant a lot. It's been a great opportunity for myself and my career. I've had a lot of great partners along the way. Toyota TRD has been a huge help in making everything happen with Joe Gibbs Racing this year and really the move back for me to go to the Truck Series and then the Xfinity Series this year.

Shared a couple words with Ty and Coach and just talked about kind of the day and put ourselves in contention, and that's really all you can do. It sucks that it didn't work out, but yeah, it kind of is what it is. Just keep your head up and keep digging.

To second what Justin said, it's super easy to come out of here bummed, down on yourself, whatever, but for the year that we had, for the effort that we had tonight, like you can't hang your head for that. You put yourself in position on the final restart, and it didn't work out. It is what it is.

Through tough times, you grow as a person and you learn certain things. I thought we ran one heck of a race tonight.

We got behind at one point, got back to the lead, controlled the race there for a little bit. Cole definitely had the best car tonight in my opinion on the shorter run and the longer run. We were pretty good through the middle part of the run. We didn't go down without a fight, that's for sure.

Q. Justin, I was hoping you could give me some insight into the final message you got before the overtime restart was: We're playing with house money. That particular message, I was just curious about it.

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: Yeah, last year we were sitting on that red flag and I'm pretty good at math. Like if I have one strength in school, it was math. The math wasn't mathing, and I know that means I wasn't very good in English. The math wasn't mathing, and I gave myself a healthy 5 percent. Felt like that was pretty generous last week. When the race ended, lo and behold with a win in the race we made it to the Final 4.

Hindsight, I guess it wouldn't have mattered, Sheldon would have won the championship. But if I would have just let Sheldon win last week, it would have knocked 00 out race with all the stuff, and we wouldn't have had to race Cole. Maybe that was a better plan.

I couldn't calculate the math that good last week. Honestly, we went into this week and we said, Okay, we shouldn't have made it. We should have, based on the year we had. And John Hunter is right, you do all the right things throughout the course of the year to put yourself in the best position you can for the Playoffs.

But we still didn't have the points coming to the last restart at Martinsville, and it took what happened to make it in.

As John Hunter said, I thought we did everything right on the restart. To get to Cole's outside, to be on the top, I felt like the bottom all night on the restarts, like if you did what John Hunter was able to do and get clear, it's a different story. But if there's somebody out there, it's so hard to kind of stop your momentum.

My spotter said, Hey, I think I like the 20 better on this restart. I think you should follow the 20. At the last possible second I sucked up behind the 00, and he's like, Well, all right then. And that's when Jim Pohlman told me we're playing with house money.

At that point, I thought, as he kind of alluded to earlier, we all four battled all night, but it was clean. Like we pushed each other to limits that I don't know that I've seen be pushed to and be that clean, side by side, battling each other, taking lines away. And really, like, that was fun. You know what I mean?

That's what it comes down to. When you look at the result, you guys said it whenever I was walking in there, but his finish doesn't show the result of what the night was. But it was awesome.

I'm watching these guys race and I'm like running my butt off trying to catch them, and I'm catching them, but at the same time I'm like if you want to run into each other that's fine, but they didn't, they raced each other clean and hard.

Lap traffic was difficult tonight, one of the more difficult races we've had getting around lap traffic. Seemed like every time you'd be running right the top, they would switch from the bottom to the top right in front of you or vice versa.

But the house money thing is just truly... At the end of the day you've got to go for broke, and we left everything on the table, and that's all there was.

Q. Following up on the clean racing thing, is there a sense of pride that you were able to race that hard and come away with a good finish?

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: It is what it is.

Q. You know what I'm saying.

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: Yeah, for sure. I think that out of the four guys that raced for the championship tonight, there was a lot of mutual respect between each other. Like we have raced each other all season long.

Sam came on there towards the end, but I feel like between Justin, Cole and myself, we have raced each other as hard as we possibly can, as clean as we possibly can all season long and battled for wins, and the respect there is huge.

One of the questions at the Q & A that got asked today was what would you do on the last lap to win the championship. And I think Justin and everyone said it right: It would not feel right wrecking someone on the last lap to win the championship.

You want to race fair and square. You want to race hard. If you door each other or whatever it may be, it's still racing hard, but you're not going to go out and wreck everyone. It's just a respect factor in my opinion.

As you grow up and you gain experience and you run in different series, you tend to learn that really fast. Cole, myself and Justin all have Cup experience. We've all been humbled from the Cup Series pretty quickly I would say. As you move up in the ranks, there's just a different respect factor between race car drivers.

One of it is experience in my opinion, and some of it is getting a butt whipping after doing something stupid or learning from doing something stupid through the years. You live and you learn. You can't beat experience. It's super valuable.

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I'll just follow that sentiment. To look at what we had this season as the racing, obviously there's a lot of young, talented race car drivers that are coming up, and they're fast. Having speed is really important in this game.

I know I've heard lots of guys talking about it, but the respect level amongst the guys coming in is zero because they're trying to prove a point, trying to earn a name. Even Sam, Sam and I have talked a lot about this. Sam pushed and took and banged and wrecked and did all these things. When it finally clicked, it was like a light switch.

Now all of a sudden you put yourself in good position. You put yourself in the front. You don't get wiped out because you've earned that respect. You don't get put in three, four, five wide bad positions because you've earned that respect.

I think throughout the course of the season, he talked about it, but we have raced each other so hard, and really, you add the 21 into the mix, I don't know there was a single race this car that one of the four, the 00, the 20, the 21 and myself, weren't battling for a win at any given moment.

Now, there's other drivers that were in there that were ultra fast, but I think when you come down to it, you come to here and you look at the talent level of the drivers, you look at the talent of the teams, our teams deserve us to lay it on the line without being stupid.

I spun myself out to not run into the side of him, knowing darned well that it probably gave me a set of tires down and was probably going to handicap our night. But that was the respect level that it took to do that.

Last night, I'm sorry, we were sitting at dinner, and I wanted to turn it off because it didn't show what I know that our sport is capable of.

Now, those moments, they're going to learn from them. Carson last night was highly critical of himself when he walked out of there. That's fine. The next opportunity is how do you fix it. I think that he got a really difficult life lesson, but something that I think a lot more people need to learn. I think the more guys learn it, the better it is.

Dale Jarrett and I actually had this conversation two days ago. I said, Man, I wish we would go back to steel bodies because it would solve all the problems. You knock the fenders off of it, your day is over. You smash the wall, your day is over. I know budget-wise and all these things, the composite body has been a game changer and from a fan standpoint your favorite drive doesn't wreck out of the race, but guess what, it causes what we saw last night.

I think for me, I liked it a lot better when you had to protect your stuff and save your brakes and save your transmissions and all that fun stuff. That's just my opinion.

Q. You seemed really lighthearted on the radio. I'm wondering how much of that influence is Jim Pohlman. You're probably the most polite driver on the radio. You just didn't seem stressed, and if you were, you were hiding it really well. Does it make it easier to do the job?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I'm going to be honest with you, I've had more fun this week and throughout the whole process than I probably have at any time in my career.

The red flag last weekend... I don't know anybody in this room that probably hasn't heard Eddie's radio call at the end of the race last week, right? But when you hear emotion like that and a guy that I've listened to darned near my entire career, I don't think I've ever heard, A, the sounds that came out of him, but B, that level of excitement.

But I think it kind of showed me, the red flag scenario, and then the way that race ended last week, as odd as this sounds, I've been doing this my entire life, I'm 32 years into racing. I've never had more peace than what I've had this week.

I knew we came in here with the team I wanted to come in here with. I knew we came in here with the pit crew I wanted to come in here with. And I know we came in here with the car I wanted to come in here with. Did it work out for us, no, but the lack of stress was just merely me enjoying what I'm doing.

I don't know how many more opportunities I'm going to have to come make a Final 4. I'm six in without getting one. Odds-wise I'm not doing real great, so don't bet on me next year, I guess. I don't know. But on the other side of it, to do it six times, to put ourselves in the Final 4 six times, there's nothing like it.

And to do it with Jason Burdett and the 17 last year for the last number of years and to switch over and do it with Jim Pohlman this year, I came into last year so uptight, and I think that's why I left sad was because I just didn't feel like I was fluid enough to give them my all.

Tonight, I mean, I screwed up. The best one was I missed on a pit stop there, they missed the windshield tear-off, and Jim coming back, he said, Ha, that one is for you spinning out on us earlier. You deserve that one. I said, All right, yeah, I'm good.

But tonight was lighthearted. Jim has been somebody that I've known for a long time, and is truly one of those people that -- he's a game changer of a person.

I'm super, super proud of him. To come into a season, to come to a new team, to put in the effort he's put in and to get us back to Final 4, we've got a lot of things to grow on, and I think you're going to see a different side of me. Maybe being a dad, getting older, gray hair, I don't know what it is, but I'm enjoying my time as the sport gives me opportunities, and having fun with it.

Q. John Hunter and you mentioned several times the respect level. You know your competitors better than I. I think a lot of drivers don't have respect level. How can you handle drivers that don't know the word 'respect level'? Did you talk to them, try to teach them?

JUSTIN ALLGAIER: I think it's a two-part answer to this. Number one, I think you have to learn it the hard way, unfortunately. I got lucky when I came into this sport, kind of going back to the age thing, but I ran a few races for Mike Miller in the Truck Series. And those of you that were around and know Mike Miller know just everything of how he operated.

You didn't drive his truck without earning respect. You didn't drive his truck if you didn't show respect. There was a lot to be said for that.

I also came into the sport with Jack Sprague, Jimmy Spencer, Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine, guys that they had respect. You had to earn their respect. I think that that was a big deal for me.

The very first Xfinity Series race that I ran in 2008, 28 of the 62 people that entered were full-time Cup Series guys. You had to earn respect.

You can be fast and you can be crazy. They would bait you into putting yourself into a really bad position really quickly because they knew and they had been there and they had been young and they had learned it the hard way.

I don't know that there's a way to have that conversation until they understand it.

On the second side of it, though, this format, the win and you're in, the win at all costs, it's great, and it's exciting for the fans. But it's nerve-racking for the drivers because you don't know who's going to throw a Hail Mary from the last row to win a race because you don't know what somebody is willing to do.

I think with Cole and John Hunter and myself, John Hunter mentioned it, going to the Cup side, it's humbling, but you learn really quickly that week in and week out, it makes life a lot easier if you just race with respect and you earn the respect of your competitors. You will get better finishes, you will get further down the road by doing that.

I think a lot of our young drivers, if you listen to a guy like Kevin Harvick, there's a reason why people are sad that he's walking away from the sport. It's not because of all the wins. It's not because of the fact that he is the champion that he is. It's because of his personality and how he raced and how he was 'The Closer'.

I remember if you got down to the last 50 laps, Kevin Harvick was in the picture, and it was because he earned respect all night and he put himself in those positions, and he has done an amazing job as a race car driver.

For me, it's not about the teaching. It's not about the telling. It's about learning it on your own. You will lose a lot more races by not showing respect than you'll ever win. I think you have to emulate somebody that you really respect, and if you do that, you'll find the right person.

I think it goes without saying, what you guys do in the media for this sport, for our fans is incredible, and I can't say thank you enough.

I get to do this week in and week out. We all travel as carnies, see a lot of faces every week, but it's truly one of the greatest sports ever, and I just can't say thank you enough for the effort you guys put in and the long hours and the time. And shoot, we'll be back. A couple weeks it seems like we'll be back racing again, so we'll go restart.



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