CONCORD, N.C. — North Carolina native John Hunter Nemechek vividly remembers attending races at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a child.
His most distinct memory is being stopped at every checkpoint for his minor credential, and “always trying to get somewhere, and not being able to get where I needed to go,” said Nemechek, whose father Joe made 674 Cup Series starts during a 24-year career.
Approximately 20 years later, Nemechek is still trying to get where he needs to go — the NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s place he’s been before, as he drove the No. 38 for Front Row Motorsports at auto racing’s highest level in 2020. But the 28-year-old left the team the following year and took a gamble by traveling back down the ladder, taking a Craftsman Truck Series ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2021.
The underlying objective was to revamp his NASCAR career and prove he could win in whatever car he strapped in.
“I’m definitely proud of where we are from the step back,” Nemechek said. “Being able to win in the Truck Series, being able to win in the Xfinity Series over the last couple of years and contend for championships — I’m sad that we didn’t win one, but we were at least contending for them.”
Since moving back to the Truck Series full time, Nemechek has tallied seven wins in two seasons, as well as 22 top-five finishes.
He also scored a single Xfinity Series victory in 2021 while driving part time for Joe Gibbs Racing.
This year, Nemechek exhaled a sigh of relief when JGR offered him the opportunity to wheel the No. 20 Toyota full time in the Xfinity Series, nudging the 28-year-old one step closer to his Cup Series dream.
So far, the team and driver duo have been a lethal combination, as Nemechek has rattled off two wins in 11 races — one at Auto Club Speedway at the beginning of the season and another a week ago at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The No. 20 also leads the standings by one point over Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill.
“I hope it puts me at the top of the line for some of the Cup seats, if they open,” Nemechek said, referring to potential advantages from his recent track record.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver admitted that, while pleased with his results, he’s never comfortable with settling for less and is always striving to impress Cup Series team owners.
“I feel like you are auditioning every time you are on the race track and even when you are off the race track,” Nemechek said. “I feel like there are so many things involved from a team to possibly look at you and pick you up.”
He lists social media, branding, media obligations, on-track performance and the hours put in off the race track as potential factors.
Nemechek added, “I definitely feel like you are kind of underneath the spotlight with everything that you do, so you better do it right.”