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.”