Ford Performance NASCAR: John Hunter Nemechek Reflects On Career-Best Cup Finish

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Monday, May 18, 2020
Darlington Media Availability

John Hunter Nemechek is coming off a career-best ninth-place finish in yesterday’s The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. Nemechek answered questions as part of a teleconference on Monday to talk about his run.

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK, No. 38 Scag Power Equipment Ford Mustang – WHAT DID IT MEAN TO FINISH IN THE TOP 10 AND GET BACK TO THE TRACK? “It definitely means a lot to our team. I feel like we’ve kind of had speed all year and we’ve made our cars better during the off-season transitioning to Front Row Motorsports. Yesterday, we came in with no expectations. We just kind of had the mindset to run every lap and learn the most that we possibly could, and while doing that we made the right adjustments all day. We stayed on top of the race track and we kind of ran our own race and it led to us running top 15 most of the day, which is a really great accomplishment for myself and Front Row Motorsports for my first time being at Darlington in a Cup car and just trying to learn. It’s definitely a hard race track, but, overall, the pit crew did amazing. Seth and myself did great at communicating. The engineers were awesome. It was a full team effort and we stayed on top of it, so it was definitely a great day and something to be proud of for us. I think that’s Front Row’s first top 10 finish on a non-superspeedway in almost four years, so it’s pretty amazing to have that accomplishment and hopefully we can continue to have the momentum roll our way, but it came down to the final restart and we had our car tuned up for the end. I was hoping we were gonna have a couple more laps. I think we could have got Reddick and Erik Jones, but, overall, a solid day. I’m looking forward to going back to Darlington on Wednesday.”

American Muscle

CAN YOU COMPARE THE EXPERIENCE OF COMPETING IN THIS RACE VS. WHAT YOU DID LAST YEAR IN THE XFINITY SERIES? “We weren’t very good at Darlington last year in the XFINITY Series, so for myself to kind of go there with an open mindset, a lot of preparation was done, a lot of video was watched, talked to quite a few Cup drivers during the quarantine about Darlington when we knew that we were going back there and just tried to be a sponge and just soak everything up. I would say Darlington last year I didn’t really like it. I didn’t really like the place. It definitely was a struggle for myself and for our team last year. We weren’t that great, so coming into Darlington this year it was completely different than the XFINITY car, just trying to make the most of the situation and with no practice I definitely like it almost gave our team a little bit of a better opportunity to run good as we didn’t have time to either mess up our car or our adjustments and set up through practice, but it didn’t really allow others to make major gains through practice, where we might not be able to do the same, so it was a lot of fun being able to tame the Lady in Black, and I had a blast. It’s a place I really like now, not really from last year, but being able to slide around and tire wear, being able to run multiple grooves, it was overall just a really fun race yesterday and really great just to be back in the seat.”

HOW TOUGH WAS THIS RACE COMPARED TO WHAT YOU WERE EXPECTING GOING IN, AND WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE GOING INTO WEDNESDAY? “I think from a confidence standpoint it definitely makes me feel really good to be able to go back there. We have some notes that I think we can get better from, from yesterday, some things that I wish the car would have done a little bit differently. It’s an opportunity for us to have a really good notebook. I mean, coming into yesterday our kind of plan as a team to run every lap and learn the most that we possibly could and we were really planning on the second Darlington race being our best race, so to come home with a ninth in the first Darlington and hopefully we can build momentum and continue to roll on that.”

WAS THE RACE TOUGHER OR EASIER ON YOU THAN EXPECTED? “I don’t think that it was terrible from a physical demand standpoint or anything like that. I definitely think from being out of the race car and coming back into the race car from so much time off, I explained it as a really long rain delay even though it was almost the amount of time that our off-season is, so it was definitely very good to be back in the seat. I definitely think that it shows who has been training and who hasn’t, and who has been preparing for coming back to racing. I’m just glad that from a physical standpoint it wasn’t as demanding as I thought it would, but I was tired afterwards. I left everything out there on the race track, that’s for sure.”

WILL YOU TAKE THE SAME CAR BACK ON WEDNESDAY? DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE OR DISADVANTAGE WITH THE BIGGER TEAMS WITH TWO DAYS IN BETWEEN? “I definitely feel like from the advantage standpoint, I don’t necessarily know if the bigger teams will have more of the advantage or if we’re gonna have the advantage. With not having practice or anything, it’s definitely, I feel like it gives us a little bit of a chance. With Front Row Motorsports and us having two cars we can learn off of each other, but when you’re racing against big teams that have four cars, you can almost come to the race track with four different setups and see which one works best, and then all the cars can kind of trend to that setup, whereas with two it’s hard to learn and hard to gain that many notes during the whole time, so I feel like going back some of the bigger teams are probably gonna step their game up. We just have to do the same and we just have to stay focused on the task at hand and we’re gonna go back with the same mindset of running all the laps and just try to put us in position to have a good finish.

ARE YOU BRINGING THE SAME CAR BACK? “We’re not bringing the same car back Wednesday. Darlington is really rough on equipment as far as with the sand and everything in the race track being so abrasive, so we’re definitely gonna have to tune it up. Even though the car was clean, it didn’t have any scratches on it, it was very well pitted out from all the sand and what-not.”

HOW DOES THREE RACES IN A SHORT PERIOD AFFECT YOUR TRAINING, ESPECIALLY WITH A 600-MILER AT THE END OF THE WEEK? “It’s definitely something I have to get used to. The longest race I’ve been a part of has been 500 miles, and I think I’ve run two of those races so far, so it’s definitely something that I have to train my body for, but as far as physical shape and mental shape during the whole quarantine process with COVID, I upped my training quite a bit. I probably doubled or tripled what I was doing on a weekly basis already, so I feel really good about my physical shape and my mental shape right now. As far as the recovery process, I actually got home and took an ice bath last night, so it’s definitely something that you have to kind of train for and I’ll be on a bike later today spinning and trying to recover a little bit, but everything that we’re doing during these times with three races in pretty much seven days is all recovery stuff, just trying to flush out the body and trying to flush out the legs, rather than putting in very high, physical demand process and letting all of our energy and what-not kind of recover before we get back in the race car.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE ON THE GRID YESTERDAY WITH NO FAMILY, FRIENDS AND PROBABLY NO MRO TO DO A PRE-RACE PRAYER? “It was definitely different. I know I think MRO had virtual chapel yesterday. I did not get to attend, sadly. We were actually debriefing and getting ready for the race with our team, but I did have some texts and some chat back and forth with another pastor that we’ve been able to talk with during this time and trying to create that mentality as well. As far as on the grid it was definitely a different feeling, something that we’re not used to and something that we hopefully don’t have to get used to as far as not having friends and family there. The whole atmosphere was different without fans and it’s not something that you kind of look forward to going back to, knowing that there aren’t gonna be fans there, but I am glad that we’re back in the seat and that we are back racing. Hopefully, we can get fans back soon because it’s definitely not the same.”

WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOUR ROLE IS IN THIS ROOKIE CLASS? CUSTER, BELL AND REDDICK HAVE GOTTEN ALL THE ATTENTION, SO HOW DO YOU FEEL? “I definitely think from a success standpoint it’s coming back to I guess putting all your effort into trying to make the most of the opportunity, but it goes back to communication with my crew chief and my whole team, and making the right decisions at the right time. I definitely feel like all the talk was about the big three. It was like the big three and me, like what about me over here? So, definitely trying to make a name for myself as far as part of the rookie class, and I feel like we’ve been able to do some of that and we just have to continue to try to do that, but the big three definitely aren’t going away. They’re hard to compete with and they’re all really good. To be able to continue to compete with them and to race them week in, week out with the circumstances that we have at Front Row, it definitely makes myself feel good and makes our team feel good. I hope to continue to build momentum through the runs that we’ve had. Like I said earlier, we’ve had speed all year, we just haven’t had finishes that we need to show. We’ve always gotten collected in somebody else’s stuff at the end of a race and that part definitely stinks, but we want to continue to run strong and finish strong and continue to show the speed that we have.”

CAN YOU LOOK AHEAD TO THE 600 AND QUALIFYING FOR THAT RACE? “It’s definitely gonna be interesting. I definitely feel like going back qualifying with no practice, I mean go out there and hold it wide-open and hope she sticks, but, all in all, it’s gonna be interesting to see who comes out with more of their race setup or who comes out with more of their qualifying setup to qualify good or whatever it may be. The 600 is gonna be a long race. It’s gonna be the longest race I’ve ever been in, so it’s a matter of taking your time and making the most of the opportunity and not getting tired, not getting mentally tired, staying focused throughout the whole thing. I think yesterday definitely shows that we started 34th and ended up ninth, and we continued to make passes. It may be a little bit different at Charlotte, but I don’t think it really matters where you qualify at this point, so to continue to try and build on that and just focus on the race, I think, is gonna be our No. 1 priority.”

DO YOU FEEL YOUR STRENGTH IS OUTWORKING THE COMPETITION OFF THE TRACK? “I wouldn’t say that I outwork the competition. I definitely think that everyone puts in effort and time into studying and what-not, but I think it’s utilizing your resources to the max. I definitely feel like I work hard in that aspect of trying to utilize all your resources from video to data to asking questions to try and be a sponge and soak everything up. I definitely feel like through my years of racing I’ve kind of had to learn some things the hard way and sometimes that’s the best way to learn things, so just trying to learn, trying to be the best sponge I can be, but, all in all, I definitely feel like the whole atmosphere in the garage of all of us rookies trying to be the best that we can be is working hard, so I wouldn’t say that I outwork everyone, but I definitely do put in a lot of time and effort and I am dedicated to this.”

WHO IS YOUR SPOTTER AND HOW IMPORTANT ARE THEY UNDER THESE CONDITIONS? “I have Chris Osborne as my spotter. He’s a veteran spotter. He’s been a great help and a great influence to me this year. He’s definitely given me all the information that I could ask for and he’s been around for a while, so he’s seen different trends through the years and he can continue to relay information that there are certain things I don’t necessarily think about from yesterday during the race or before we even raced, getting on a call with him and just being able to talk about his experiences at the race track. He can throw out pointers for me and I definitely kind of know my trends as a driver when certain things happen or when I kind of focus on not necessarily the wrong things, but not the fully correct things while we’re running laps. He can kind of see those trends and push me to be better and tell me to focus, so he keeps me on my toes and he keeps me focused, but at the same time he gives me a lot of information. Spotters are key right now with no practice and no qualifying, and especially for my first time being at Darlington in a Cup car, being able to learn some of the things from these guys that have so much experience at Darlington and are race winners and champions in this sport, he can definitely give me information on them and just trying to be smart about everything that we do. He definitely keeps me on my toes with that aspect.”

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