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John Hunter Nemechek on Cup debut at Texas: ‘This is what we all dream about’

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The car number (36) will remain the same but there’ll be a different face and body behind the wheel for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

John Hunter Nemechek will replace Matt Tifft, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a seizure this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

The 22-year-old Nemechek, who is in his first full season of racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, is looking forward to making his first career Cup start in Tifft’s place – but wishes the circumstances were a bit different.

This definitely isn’t the way any driver wants to be able to go and make their first NASCAR Monster Energy Series debut,” Nemechek told Dave Moody on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway. “I’m really hoping Matt is okay, gets better really soon and is back in his car as soon as possible. That’s what’s important right now.

I’m really grateful for the opportunity (to) go and make Front Row Motorsports, their partners and Matt proud in the next few weeks.”

Front Row Motorsports had to scramble to find a replacement driver after Tifft was taken to a hospital in Martinsville. Matt Crafton replaced him in this past Sunday’s Cup race there.

Fortunately for Nemechek, when Front Row came knocking, Chevrolet agreed to let its young driver go out and pilot a Ford Mustang for the remaining three Cup races – while also still driving a Chevy for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series.

It really happened overnight,” Nemechek told Moody. “It’s just something that kind of happened. I’m really grateful for Bob Jenkins and everyone at Front Row to make this opportunity happen for myself and all of our partners in GMS Racing and for Chevrolet willing to let me go to drive a Cup car and gain some valuable experience.

Once you’re tied to a manufacturer, it’s really hard to go and drive for another one. I’m very grateful for Chevrolet and everything they’ve done for me in my career and how they’ve been loyal to myself and dedicated and pushed me through the ranks over the last couple of years and I definitely don’t want to upset them. But when this opportunity came up, we’re going to drive a Cup car. It’s pretty amazing.”

In addition to gaining his first amount of Cup experience, Nemechek also has another bit of motivation: “We’re leaving Matt’s name on the car. It’s his ride, his car. I’m just filling in, trying to get the most of what we can, run some laps and finish it off.”

Son of veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek, the younger Nemechek is already feeling butterflies – and he hasn’t even gotten to the Lone Star State yet.

There most definitely is,” Nemechek said when Moody asked if he’s feeling any anxiety. “Any time you’re racing in a new series, you get butterflies. As a young guy continuing to move up the ranks, this is what we all dream about. We all want to be in the Cup Series one day, and it’s our goal when we’re running in the Xfinity and Truck series.

Growing up, I wanted to be in the top level of the sport. This weekend, there’s definitely going to be butterflies, but you just have to take what it’ll give us, try to have a solid debut, run all the laps and gain all the experience I can. You ain’t learning anything if you’re up on jack stands is what I’ve been told (by his father Joe), so we just have to go out and do the best we can.

I really like Texas Motor Speedway. It’s a great race track and a great opportunity for myself. I’ve always liked Texas ever since I was old enough to run there. I remember going there with dad and having a lot of fun with him when I was young. We’ve run really well there in the Truck Series and have run pretty well in the Xfinity Series. Should have won the Xfinity race there last year. It’s another good mile-and-a-half race track. It’s going to be exciting, for sure.”

Nemechek has had good success at Texas in the past in other series. He’s made two Xfinity Series starts there, finishing ninth (last fall) and fourth (this spring). In five Truck Series starts there, he has one top-10 and three other top-20 finishes.

While he still plans on driving the last two Xfinity races of the season for GMS Racing in addition to the last three Cup races, Nemechek does not have a contract to race for any team in any series for 2020 yet. That’s why Texas is an important litmus test of sorts.

Being able to go run in the Cup Series and be somewhat competitive and be able to go out and earn respect from the top Cup guys,” he said when asked what he hopes to achieve in Sunday’s Cup debut. “There’s guys racing for a championship right now, so you definitely don’t want to be that guy that gets in their way.

The storyline is we want to go and have a quiet weekend for us, just run as many laps as we possibly can and gain as much experience and just have a solid weekend. That’s our goal. It’s all new for me, I’ve never driven a Cup car before so it’s going to be a whole new process and whole new learning curve.”

 

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Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.