Making it to the NASCAR Cup Series is typically considered the pinnacle for most American stock car racers. Getting there, even with one of the teams that may not be considered top tier, is often thought to be the realization of a life-long dream. To voluntarily leave the sport’s top level for the purpose of dropping down to one of the lower divisions would be considered by most within the sport as unthinkable.
But at the end of the 2020 season, dropping down is exactly what John Hunter Nemechek did when he announced his intention to leave the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford on the NASCAR Cup Series in favor of taking a ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. And as a result, some questioned the 23-year-old driver’s judgement.
And when Front Row driver Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 then reeled off two more top-10 finishes, the move may have looked even more suspect in the eyes of some. While there is no doubt that KBM can field highly competitive trucks, giving up what now looks like it might have been a potential contender for top finishes at the highest level was not looking like a good move.
This past weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Nemechek went a long toward answering those who questioned him by winning the Bucked Up 200 in only his third start for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was the Mooresville, NC driver’s third straight top-10 and pushed him to the top of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings.
Nemechek addressed his move from the Cup Series to his current ride in his post-race media availability at LVMS.
“I think tonight after getting out of the truck I was kind of holding back emotion in a sense,” he stated. “It’s just so rewarding to be able to make that decision and stick with it. Moving from the Cup Series back to the Truck Series, for us to come out here and win a race in our third start together as a team and to be able to be competitive every single week. The expectation is there for me to win, from Kyle, from everyone at Toyota, from our partners, from our sponsors, from my wife even. The expectation is to win and we’re using the hashtag ‘Here For Wins’. It’s very validating.”
The son of former NASCAR Cup Series winner Joe Nemechek went on to explain that he did not view his off-season move in the same way others might have. The winner of seven NCWTS races, the younger Nemechek believes the competition in his current series is not to be dismissed.
“This one is bitter-sweet, I think more so for the validation of moving back to the Truck Series from the Cup Series,” Nemechek declared. “I feel like a lot of people see that as you’re downgrading yourself and you’re downgrading series. I don’t quite see it that way. This series is very competitive, there’s a lot of competitive trucks every single week. It’s really close racing.”
Nemechek’s time with Front Row Motorsports did not go as well as either party might have hoped. After registering five DNFs due to crashes, the driver believed his future would be better served elsewhere.
“I feel like when you’re making that decision you’re trying to weigh out the best option that you feel like is the best for your career,” Nemechek explained. “But not only the best for your career but something you’re going to be happy with, something that you can live with yourself, something that you can have the recollection of being validated. Just trying to make sure that you’re doing everything you can as a driver and a person to be the happiest that you can be and have fun. And I’m sure having fun so far.”
Nemechek’s return to the Truck Series may have been questioned when it was announced but the reunification with proven crew chief Eric Phillips certainly seems to be working in his favor so far. A race win and leadership in the series standings are making his argument for him.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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