Joe Gibbs Racing driver John Hunter Nemechek was made available to media as part of the Championship 4 media day on Wednesday:
JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK, No. 20 Pye Barker Fire & Safety Toyota GR Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
After having a few issues here earlier this year took away from having a car that was capable of winning – does that make it unfinished business for you this weekend?
“I guess that’s one way to look at it. Sometimes you make mistakes and have to overcome those. We were able to overcome quite a bit, got ourselves back in position and didn’t have the greatest restart. Still a solid day (here) in the spring so looking forward to this weekend and hopefully going to win a race. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Are you confident heading into Saturday’s race?
“I’m confident in this 20 team. I’m confident in myself as a driver. We just have to go execute like we have all year. Can’t change anything now. We’re going to go do what we know how to do and that’s race and compete. We have fun doing it – that’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re in this position.”
How do you feel about racing at Phoenix?
“I like the race track. I’ve yet to win here, so hopefully we can accomplish that this weekend. It’s been a good race track to me. I feel like there’s quite a few of those where we’ve been really good but haven’t won quite yet, so hopefully we can get the job done.”
How do you remove the distractions this weekend?
“I’m here to race. It’s just the same old race weekend. We’re doing media beforehand which is different. That’s about it. Practice, qualifying, race.”
How do you approach this weekend and what feels different compared to years past?
“I’m having fun. That’s all that matters. When you’re having fun and love what you do it makes your job 10 times easier. I’m enjoying every aspect of it. I feel like there’s been times in my career where I’ve really enjoyed things and other times where I haven’t had fun at all. This year has definitely been fun with this 20 team and Joe Gibbs Racing. Hopefully we can cap off the year with one more race win. That would be huge for myself and this organization. All in all, if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. If not, it’s not meant to be. We’re here to race, here to compete, here to do what we love and fun doing it.”
Do you feel good about the fact that you have a Cup deal already for next year and you can just go out and race on Saturday?
“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. All the focus has been on this year and this 20 team. In year’s past, yes, I have been worried I would say at times about what my future looks like and different things of that sort but all in all I’m happy with the spot that I’m in. Enjoying being able to run upfront and win races. Even if I didn’t have a Cup deal, I’d probably be in the same mindset. I’m enjoying it and when you enjoy something you don’t think about too much in the future. You like to live in the present and have fun with the times that you’re in and the hands that are dealt and the people that are surrounding you.”
Has the success you’ve had this season put you in this positive mindset?
“Success definitely makes you feel good. I think all in all, it’s the group of people that you’re around. I’m enjoying being a part of Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota and TRD. Just when you surround yourself with the right people and you’re able to go out and compete at a high level every single weekend it makes the job that much more fun. When the guys are getting along as a team and joking around – good vibes – how can you not have fun? When everything clicks as a team, whether you’re successful or not, just from a team aspect and a personality aspect you tend to enjoy that a lot more.”
What’s the baseline with the Legacy Motor Club team going into 2024?
“I’m focused on this year and the Xfinity car.”
What goes into getting to this point competing for a championship?
“I will say that it’s a very long season. Thirty-three races – not as long as the Cup Series but being able to be competitive every single week is very hard to do. You see at times teams will get a bunch of momentum and start clicking off race wins and then as they dwindle down to the playoffs they peak too early or can’t keep the confidence or momentum going per say. I feel like with being able to have a shot to do that every single week within a good organization and good people surrounding you, it makes the long season I guess easier. To answer your question, there’s a lot that goes into it. From film study to simulation to spending time at the shop with the guys understanding race cars, traveling to the racetrack, being able to execute and study when you’re at the racetrack, changing things on the fly if you need to. Being able to adapt in every situation I think is huge. A lot of hard work behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t get to see so I’m glad that we’re here. I wish that the season wasn’t over yet, just with the season we’ve had. But all in all, I can definitely say over the next couple weeks after we get done with the season and wrap everything up, my phone will be off for a couple weeks and I’ll go and enjoy some time with my family.”
What do you feel like you’ve gotten better at after all of the hard work you’ve put in?
“I’ve had some great people surround me over my years from the time that I was 16 and driving for my family team to getting my first Xfinity gig working underneath a great driver in the past and great mentor for the time being. Really, just more experience growing up. Learning in different ways. Experiencing things in different ways. Building that notebook. I would say that this year – there’s three guys in the playoffs that are really experienced, have raced at all three levels and have had success at all three levels. I think it comes back to just learning and building that notebook and not being too good to reach out to other guys in different garages and some past champions in the sport.”
Which drivers have helped you?
“I won’t say names, but there’s definitely some ‘goats’ I will say in all series that I’ve been able to reach out to, talk to and get different mindset perspectives. Different views of being a race car driver and different views on life.”
Did the run you had previously in Cup show you what you have to look forward to in 2024?
“I don’t know. To be honest, I haven’t really thought about the Cup deal. I haven’t thought about the Cup deal at all. It’s all been 2023 and looking at this Xfinity Series championship and trying to execute as a 20 team and trying to accomplish all of the goals that we set earlier this year.”
Do you think there’s a favorite amongst the four of you?
“I don’t know. We’re here to race and compete. It’s just a standard race weekend in my opinion and go do what we’ve done all year.”
Do you feel like you have to keep an eye on the teammates of the people you’re racing against for the championship?
“I’m focused on my bubble. We’re focused on ourselves and try and go execute the way that we know how.”
How much fun is it to experience your success with your wife and young children?
“It’s super neat. Being able to grow up at the race track the same way I did with Aspen and Penelope and being able to take them to victory lane. Some of my earliest childhood memories are in victory lane with my dad at the racetrack. It’s super neat to be able to have them grow up the same way that I did. Just having fun with them, enjoying life with them. They’ve changed me a lot, that’s for sure.”
How much have you scouted the other guys in film this week?
“To be honest with you, I haven’t really scouted what the other guys have been doing. I say that – I haven’t been focused on solely let’s say the three guys I’m racing against, right? I feel like the Xfinity Series has been very competitive over the last couple of years. I feel like there’s quite a few guys who can win a race at any time really, any race weekend. There are guys that are doing certain things at Phoenix that work really well and there’s some guys that do certain things that don’t work really well. So, being able to find the positives and the negatives and try and learn what to do and what not to do from everyone in the field I think is big.”
Did you talk to Sammy Smith after the Martinsville race?
“I’ve reached out and that’s really all I can say. It sucks that Joe Gibbs Racing doesn’t have two cars here to try and compete for a championship. Everyone has I guess different views on the situation or whatever it may be. All in all, I’ve reached out, I’ve tried to talk to Sammy (Smith) and that’s kind of it.”
Does that concern you at all going into this weekend?
“You definitely don’t want to make enemies right. We all know Sammy’s (Smith) is going to be fast here. He’s going to have a shot to go win the race. It would be awesome if we can win, but if not hopefully a JGR car is in victory lane. If I run second and am able to win the championship that’s still success in my opinion.”
Do you continue to try and reach out?
“From my perspective, you continue to try. It takes two to tango.”
What have you learned from past championship experiences that you will take into Saturday’s race?
“A lot. I can’t give you all those details, but I’ve learned a lot. I did something different in 2021, I did something different in 2022 and didn’t make the final 4 in ’22 so that didn’t work. Kind of back to the drawing board. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, I feel like I’ve matured a lot. I feel like from my perspective building that notebook and the experience is priceless. You can’t put a number on it.”
After Ty Gibbs won last year, is there anything the organization learned that’s helpful for your effort?
“I mean, it never hurts to win races, that’s for sure. JGR has been fast here in the past and hopefully we can have the same here this weekend. We won’t really know until our cars get unloaded and hit the racetrack and see what we have to work with. I feel like Ty (Gibbs) and the team did a great job last year. They executed well and had a really fast GR Supra and hopefully we can do the same this weekend.”
What do you have planned with your family for Thanksgiving?
“Yeah, we’re going to get away for a couple weeks. Go and enjoy some time together and see everyone at the banquet.”
How much of going into this weekend is nervousness and excitement and how much is just going in knowing you do what you can do?
“You can compete, you can go and do what you can do and if the cards aren’t dealt right or it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. We’re here to race, we’re here to compete just like any other race weekend. If you’re able to win it all, the championship is the cherry on top.”
What would finally securing a championship mean to you?
“It would mean a lot. I haven’t really thought about it to be honest with you. It would be a super meaningful. I think with the hard work and taking a gamble – not only for myself but for Toyota and TRD and all the great partners that I’ve had supporting me up to the Cup level and then back to the Truck Series level and shared the same vision that I did, and Toyota did in order to get back to Sunday’s at some point – to win a championship would mean a lot. It would be a huge validation, that’s for sure.”
What is it about your pit crew that gives you the confidence that they can get the job done?
“Experience. My guys are experienced veterans that have been in the sport for quite some time. I feel good about it. They’ve executed well all year. We’ve had to overcome some obstacles earlier in the year, but they figured it out. Just experience.”
Would you be an emotional guy on Saturday if you win the championship?
“I don’t know to be honest with you. I think it would definitely mean a lot to win the championship. We’ll have to see when the time comes. I feel like it’s been a successful year for us and this 20 team. I’d love to cap it off with one more race win. That’s for sure. It’s just another race. We’re here to race, we’re here to compete, we’re here to have fun. I’ve enjoyed myself all year with this 20 team and this group of guys. I’m glad to be able to race with them one last time.”
Do you think just getting to the championship 4 is a validation?
“Yeah, it’s hard to get here for sure. It’s not an easy task. You have to execute every single week of the year. We’ve had ups, we’ve had some downs this year. We’ve had some momentum on our side. We’ve put together some races, but it goes back to just executing and having fun. When you’re having fun, you’re enjoying yourself, you’re enjoying the guys around you, you’re enjoying showing up every race weekend to work with those guys it makes your job so much easier. Communication is on point when it comes down to that. I’ve enjoyed this year. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”
Do you feel like you can have fun in this final race?
“Yeah, for sure. I’m enjoying sitting here talking to you guys. You just have to enjoy every aspect of it. I’ve lived in the past where I haven’t kind of taken everything in and it’s kind of breezed over and you haven’t thought about things and haven’t really taken in that moment. You look back on it and wished that you would have. Wished that you would’ve lived in that moment. We’re here, we’re racing, it’s another weekend for us to try and win another race and we’re here to have fun. We’re here to race and enjoy ourselves and I definitely think that I can do that.”
Have your daughters helped you to live more in the moment?
“Yeah, for sure. When you get home and Aspen comes up and gives you a hug and tells you that she loves you, it kind of takes all of the bad away. Even if it’s good times, she does the same thing. She doesn’t know any better whether it’s good or bad. There were a couple times where we got wrecked this year and I was frustrated after the race and you get back to the bus and she’s there to hug you and that’s it, it’s over. You can’t do anything about the past. You’ve got to live in the present. I think with how fast kids grow up underneath you in your eye, you have to live in the present. You have to enjoy every moment.”
What do you think of Phoenix as a track?
“I like Phoenix. I’ve run well here in the past. I’ve enjoyed my time racing here. It’s been good to me. I haven’t won here yet so that’s still on the bucket list to do and try and check that off. I’ve enjoyed Phoenix.”
What makes Phoenix such a unique track?
“Restarts are crazy with the dogleg; it can definitely get hectic. It can get wild, or it can be calm. So, I feel like there’s multiple grooves, being able to slip and slide around. I feel like Phoenix has definitely done a great job of hosting the final race of the year. The campgrounds are packed so enjoy it from a fan aspect.”
Do all of the wins this year give you momentum going into Saturday?
“I think it just shows that we had success this year. I don’t know how much you can take from the regular season and winning earlier in the year to here. There’s no points advantage or anything of that sort. We know that we can do it as a team. We know that we can compete as a team, and we’ve had fast Toyota GR Supras all year so hopefully we can have one this weekend and go out and compete and try to execute the way we know how.”
Has your dad given you any advice for this weekend?
“Have fun. Enjoy the moment. You don’t get a ton of opportunities like this so being able to be in a position like this to have a shot to win a championship is huge. Just be present and enjoy it.”
Golin for Toyota Racing PR