DOVER, Del. — Last December, Chip Ganassi Racing signed John Hunter Nemechek to a multi-race deal for the 2018 XFINITY Series season. It was a feel-good move, as Nemechek had driven to five wins over the previous three years for his father’s underfunded Trucks Series team.
The 21-year-old has certainly performed well enough to receive a full-time XFINITY ride in 2019, totaling three top fives and six top 10s in his 13 starts this year. Then came Ross Chastain, the 25-year-old Florida Melon farmer and NASCAR journeyman who’s overachieved in every ride he’s been in. Ganassi plugged Chastain in the No. 42 for three XFINITY races — all over the last month and a half — and he immediately shined: a pole, a win, and a second-place finish after starting from the rear.
So, is the pressure now on Nemechek to perform?
“No. No. I’m trying to make my own name,” Nemechek said. “You have to look at it from the standpoint that I have 13 starts and he has 100 and something. He did good. It was a great opportunity for him. I’m happy for him.”
Nemechek is right. From a seat-time perspective, Chastain is hundreds of miles ahead, having competed in 220 races national series over eight years. This Saturday’s Bay Harbor 200 presented by Sea Watch International marks Nemechek’s 104th national series start. Even with a limited amount of XFINITY Series starts, Nemechek has challenged for wins. He started third and finished fourth at Atlanta in his first-ever XFINITY start, led 36 laps and placed 13th at Richmond, and finished fourth at Loudon.
“I have to go out and run my own race,” Nemechek said. “We’ve been fast. We just have to figure out how to close the deal. We’ve contended for wins. We’ve just had mechanical issues. Some on my part and some on the team’s part. Overall, we’re a team. We win and lose together. So we just have to clean some things up for these final races and try and go and win the owner’s championship.”
The No. 42 Ganassi team is currently tied for first with Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs team in the XFINITY Series owner’s points with five races to go. Nemechek is slated to finish the remaining four races after Dover at Kansas, Texas, ISM in Phoenix and Homestead.
He’ll have to dust off a few cobwebs, though, as Saturday will be Nemechek’s first XFINITY Series race in a month and second over the past two months.
When asked how he stays fresh, Nemechek said, “Still being at the racetrack at the racetrack each week, supporting our team; supporting Ross, Kyle [Larson], everyone that’s been in [the No. 42]. Just trying to fill my head with as much knowledge as I can to make myself better. That’s how you keep on task.”
Nemechek started 35th and finished 14th in the spring race at Dover. In four career Trucks Series starts, his average finish is 13.0 with one top 10. On Friday, he was 11th-fastest in first practice with a 23.541 and third-fastest in final practice at 23.484.
“Looking forward to [Saturday],” Nemechek said. “Glad to be back. Chevy Assecories Camaro here this weekend for Ganassi. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the XFINITY car but looking forward to getting back to it and hopefully we can go get a win.”