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Kickin The Tires

John Hunter Nemechek hits Pocono after career-best Cup finish

Photo by Nigel Kinrade Photography

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer

With a shot to win Monday at Talladega Superspeedway, a member of the highly touted 2020 rookie class in the NASCAR Cup Series is hoping for more just five days later.

John Hunter Nemechek made the leap from the Xfinity ranks to the Cup Series for 2020, joining the mid-pack crew of Front Row Motorsports. With three starts with the Ford organization in 2019, the 23-year-old has busted out of the gates in the opening 13 rounds of the season.

With seven top-20 finishes, Nemechek scored his first top 10 at Darlington in May before nearly winning last week at Talladega, where the No. 38 driver pushed Erik Jones to the lead until contact crashed both drivers across the finish line.

Still, a career-best finish of eighth has Nemechek looking high heading into Pocono Raceway for the historic doubleheader weekend.

“I think the experience is everything,” Nemechek said Friday. “To go and contend for top 10s and top fives and the wins — and just have the speed in our cars — I feel like we’ve gotten more speed in our cars so far this year.”

Though no victory and a damaged car after Talladega, the finish-line thriller gave Nemechek another smile in 2020.

“We got down to the final few laps and it was time to try and make a move,” he said. “I got hooked onto Erik Jones’ bumper and kind of just started pushing him. I wish there would have been an in-car camera for his hands because I know what the back of the car looked like, that thing was every which way from sideways, so it was an interesting technique.

“I felt like it was going to be a photo finish at the line, three-wide between the [No.] 12, Erik and myself and when Blaney came up to block the 20 he kind of door-checked him. When he doored him, it turned Erik sideways and it put himself and myself in the fence.

“So, what looked like it was going to be a promising day or a shot to win we ended up finishing eighth, but, overall, at superspeedway races all you can do is keep yourself out of trouble and put yourself in a position to have a shot to win it at the end and we were able to do so, so you can’t be disappointed about that.”

With now two top 10s on the year, Nemechek sits second in the Rookie of the Year only behind Tyler Reddick. Additionally, Nemechek is the only rookie to finish all 13 races and sits 13 points above his veteran FRM teammate Michael McDowell.

Nemechek believes the lack practice since the sport’s return has leveled the field of competition, granting his team the ability to rise up the running order.

“I feel like when you have practice, some teams are able to get out in front of others,” he said. “So, having no practice for myself at Front Row Motorsports right now, I think is a little bit of an advantage to us just from the resource side. If one of their teammates gets onto something, then all of the other three cars can switch to that setup, whereas for myself at Front Row it’s just Michael McDowell and myself, and it’s pretty much whichever one is better that weekend that’s what we end up going to.

“We need to strive to get the finishes as best we can. We just have to be able to close out races.”

With two Cup races being run this weekend at Pocono (a 130-lap race on Saturday and a 140-lap race on Sunday), Nemechek is ready for the unique challenge. In fact, he wishes he could race more this weekend.

“I like running multiple races in one weekend. If I could run all three series, I would,” he said. “Just being able to race as much as possible and be on the racetrack as much as possible. Every time you’re on the racetrack, you’re learning.

“I don’t feel like fitness for myself from running two races in one weekend is going to play a huge factor as far as being out of shape or anything, so I feel good about it.”

Starting 20th for Saturday’s race, Nemechek has five prior national series starts at the Pennsylvania triangle, with a best finish of fourth in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2017.

“Pretty much everything I’ve ever run around Pocono has been a higher downforce package,” he said. “So, I feel having that experience in the past and having laps at Pocono is definitely going to be beneficial. Everywhere I go this year is for the first time with no practice, so you just have to adapt fast and move forward and try and do the best that you can every single lap.

“Having the doubleheader, Saturday is more of a learning day. Hopefully, we can still run very well and do great things on Saturday, but, if not, then we can take what we learned from Saturday and put it into Sunday and gain that experience and a little bit of a notebook and just try to be better for Sunday.”

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