First-time NASCAR Championship 4 drivers: No. 3 – John Hunter Nemechek
John Hunter Nemechek is coming off one of the most impressive and consistent NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons in recent memory, scoring seven wins, 17 top five finishes, 24 top 10 finishes, and posting an average finish of 9.5 with 1,083 laps led, despite not winning the championship.
Following his stellar 2023 campaign with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was promoted to the Cup Series as the driver of the No. 42 car for Legacy Motor Club in 2024.
And while the No. 42 car was, in no uncertain terms, awful in 2023, Legacy Motor Club have switched from Chevrolet to Toyota, which will very likely boost their performance and results, given how much more support Toyota can give to the team with so few cars in the Toyota Racing Development camp compared to Ford and Chevrolet.
What’s even more important about this is the fact that both Nemechek and new teammate Erik Jones have driven for Toyota at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series and at Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, with Jones having also raced for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Cup Series. This familiarity with Toyota will undoubtedly help all parties succeed.
Additionally, team co-owner Jimmie Johnson will be in his second full season at the helm, and he will have learned a lot of lessons from 2023 that he can apply to 2024. With the seven-time champion likely to compete in more races, his experience will also help better integrate the team with a new manufacturer, and potentially gain a step with what is a brand-new Toyota Camry body style.
But even if the team were to step up in performance and become regular contenders, how well will Nemechek really perform in his first season?
The 2024 season is not his rookie season. He competed full-time for Front Row Motorsports in 2020 and has made a total of 41 Cup Series starts. While his results were less than impressive, having only scored three top 10 finishes, that was largely down to the poor performance level of his equipment and his inexperience.
Since then, he put himself back in the Truck Series for two seasons, where he scored seven wins, 22 top five finishes and 31 top 10 finishes, before then dominating the Xfinity Series this past season and re-joining the Cup Series for 2024.
He recognized his faults, took an opportunity to restart, gained himself three years of extra experience in the lower series, and completely re-invented himself. With Nemechek doing all of this before even turning 27 years old, he has likely re-joined the Cup Series right as he is entering his prime.
Should Legacy Motor Club improve their car performance with Toyota and Nemechek keep up his stellar run of form from the past three seasons, he and the team could find themselves in the thick of the playoff race, and even a shot at the championship.