NASCAR driver linked to surprising Cup Series return

Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

John Hunter Nemechek has been linked to the second Legacy Motor Club seat for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season amid the team’s switch to Toyota.

When John Hunter Nemechek opted to give up his NASCAR Cup Series ride with Front Row Motorsports following his rookie season in 2020, he knew that it would probably take some time for him to get back up to the sport’s top series.

But he was willing to drop back down to the Truck Series, where he had competed on some level since 2013 and driven full-time in 2015 and 2016, to realign with Toyota for the first time since 2014.

He made the move in order to position himself to work his way back up the ladder and thus potentially land himself a more competitive Cup Series opportunity down the road.

Nemechek ran full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2021 and 2022 Truck Series seasons, winning seven races and making a Championship 4 appearance along the way. Amid Kyle Busch’s switch from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing and his team’s corresponding switch from Toyota to Chevrolet, Nemechek again faced an uncertain future.

However, he was promoted to Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series team, where he had made select starts in 2021 and 2022. The 2023 Xfinity Series season is his first as a full-time driver at NASCAR’s second highest level since he competed for GMS Racing in 2019.

Nemechek has emerged as a championship favorite, winning five races and adding four runner-up finishes in the first 21 races of the season, and now he could be looking at an opportunity for a promotion back to the Cup Series for 2024.

Legacy Motor Club, formerly known as Petty GMS Motorsports after Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing merged, recently announced that they will be switching from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

With Toyota currently fielding just two full-time teams in the Cup Series in Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing, the obvious intention of Legacy Motor Club’s move is to become more competitive amid what has been a down year in 2023.

Given this team’s poor performance this year as a whole, it seems rather harsh that they would cut ties with either one of their drivers.

However, if the rumors are to be believed, there is a chance that Noah Gragson could be replaced by John Hunter Nemechek for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Toyota remain very high on Nemechek, and he has given them no reason not to be since returning to the manufacturer in 2021. His ties to Joe Gibbs Racing — and even 23XI Racing — could also play a role in the long-rumored potential alliance between Legacy Motor Club and the Toyota powerhouse.

His previous ties to GMS Racing certainly won’t hurt either.

Let’s also not forget that while the Mooresville, North Carolina native is only 26 years old, he is a NASCAR veteran. The 2023 season is his 11th consecutive season of competition at one or more of the sport’s three national series. A Cup Series promotion would by no means be a case of “rushing” a talented young driver to the top level like we so often see.

As for Gragson, even if we totally disregard his ongoing indefinite suspension, he has just two top 20 finishes this season. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet sits in 33rd (last) place among full-time driver in the point standings and has posted just two top 25 finishes — and nothing better than 22nd — since the end of March.

Teammates Erik Jones only sits in 28th place in the standings, but he has posted five top 10 finishes. Plus, without a recent 60-point penalty for illegal modification, the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet would be sitting in 23rd with more than twice as many points as his rookie teammate.

Worth mentioning, the gap was similar last year between Jones and then-teammate Ty Dillon, and Dillon lost his ride behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chevrolet to Gragson after just one season.

Gragson was said to have signed a “multi-year contract” with the team ahead of the 2023 season, but specifics of such deals are often not revealed, and many contracts contain option years.

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While the suggestion of such a scenario would have been laughed off at the start of the year following Gragson’s impressive four-year stint in the Xfinity Series, it would no longer be surprising to see the 25-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native dropped after just one season, and there is no better prospect in Toyota’s young talent pipeline than Nemecheck to take his place.