John Hunter Nemechek’s decision to leave the NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2020 season raised some eyebrows. Now it has paid off.
Following his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020, John Hunter Nemechek made somewhat of a surprising decision to leave Front Row Motorsports — and thus his spot in the Cup Series — to drop down to the Truck Series, realigning himself with Toyota.
Nemechek, who signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports, had competed for Toyota in 2013 and 2014 when he drove part-time for SWM-NEMCO Motorsports in the Truck Series.
There was never a guarantee that Nemechek would be able to get back to the Cup Series, but he felt that taking this route at least gave him a better chance to be competitive if it happened, with Front Row Motorsports being a below average team at the time.
In 2021, Nemechek won five races and advanced to the Championship 4, and perhaps most impressively, three of those five wins came ahead of Kyle Busch himself in second place. He also competed in select Xfinity Series races with Joe Gibbs Racing and earned his first victory since 2018.
He regressed slightly in 2022, winning only two Truck Series races, but he got the call to move to Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series team full-time in 2023. He won a series-high seven races and advanced to the Championship 4.
Over the summer, it was rumored that Nemechek could replace Noah Gragson at Legacy Motor Club, which had announced that they would be switching from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2024.
Although Toyota Racing Development noted that they looked forward to working with Erik Jones and Gragson, two former Toyota drivers, once again, Gragson’s subpar performance led many to believe that a switch could be made.
He made it easy on everybody when he was found to have “liked” an inappropriate meme on social media, leading to his suspension and ultimately his release.
The 26-year-old Mooresville, North Carolina native was subsequently confirmed as Gragson’s full-time replacement for 2024, and even though the team remained with Chevrolet to conclude the 2023 season, Nemechek made one substitute appearance behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chevrolet as well.
Now John Hunter Nemechek is officially in line for his second chance in the NASCAR Cup Series.
It took him three years out of the Cup Series full-time, but Nemechek’s gamble — and most importantly, his patience — appear to have paid off.
Legacy Motor Club’s move to Toyota is just another step in making the team more competitive, in addition to several other major moves made by the organization in recent years.
Instead of being the eighth Chevrolet team, they are now the third Toyota team, and Toyota’s other new team, 23XI Racing, have won races in each of their three seasons in the sport. Legacy Motor Club also have the advantage of not starting from the ground up, which should bode well even if they don’t form any sort of an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Legacy Motor Club had been known as Richard Petty Motorsports before the 2022 season, when the team merged with GMS Racing to become Petty GMS Motorsports. The rebrand happened in 2023, when seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson became a co-owner of the organization.
The team did regress slightly from an impressive 2022 season which saw Jones win the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, but improvement down the stretch gives them plenty of hope as they prepare to enter 2024 with a strong lineup.
Additionally, GMS Racing have since shuttered their Truck Series operation, even after nearly winning the 2023 title with Grant Enfinger. That increased focused on the Cup side should further strengthen the team at a time when they are aiming to emerge as a true force at the front for a manufacturer that has a proven track record of making things happen.
Nemechek’s only other Cup Series start since 2020 came at Homestead-Miami Speedway (pictured) as the replacement for a suspended Bubba Wallace at 23XI Racing in October 2022.