Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is John Hunter Nemechek the Heir at JGR?

Is John Hunter Nemechek in line to replace Martin Truex Jr. or Denny Hamlin, or could another team hire him?

Amy Henderson: There’s no reason he shouldn’t be. John Hunter Nemechek has talent yet to be developed, and the Nos. 11 or 19 would be the logical next step to see what he can really do in the best equipment against the best competition. Like so many decisions made in NASCAR today, it will depend on sponsorship, but there’s no other reason not to bump him up. Could another team steal him? That depends on two things: when one of those seats opens up, and whether another team makes him a better offer in the meantime. If Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin both stick around for more than another year after 2023, Nemechek might start looking for a shorter path.

Mark Kristl: Nemechek definitely should be the next in line at Joe Gibbs Racing. He already showed he belonged in the NASCAR Cup Series during his time with Front Row Motorsports. Now, after a successful stint in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as well as already winning twice in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Nemechek is the heir apparent. He wouldn’t have taken the gamble to leave Cup for Trucks if there wasn’t a clear path for him to return. He could easily rejoin the Cup field back with JGR and be fast right from the get-go.

Anthony Damcott: Given that Nemechek moved up to the Xfinity Series with JGR instead of moving to Chevrolet with Kyle Busch Motorsports, it’s clear he’s the next Toyota driver in line to replace an outgoing Cup driver. Nemechek has more than proven he can compete in the Cup Series with the right equipment, and taking over the Nos. 11 or 19 would be the perfect opportunity to have a Ryan Preece-esque career path.

Joy Tomlinson: Yes, if he has enough sponsorship to do so. It might depend on how the rest of the season goes for him, but he’s already proven he can win in both Trucks and Xfinity. Also depends on whether Truex returns next year or not. If neither driver moves on from JGR at the end of the year, Nemechek should remain in Xfinity for another year until a seat opens up.

Mike Neff: Yes. Nemechek has been a great driver for Toyota, so it seems logical that keeping him in the family at the flagship team would be ideal. That said, money talks, and anyone with a big enough check could have him.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: Tires, Tires, Tires

After the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin said, “It was impossible to pass.” What, if anything, should NASCAR do to make it easier for drivers to pass?

Neff: It shouldn’t be easy to pass, but it also shouldn’t be impossible. These cars are still too low to the ground, so following in turbulent air is too much of a penalty. Raising them up four inches would make a massive difference.

Henderson: I think the biggest answer is twofold: more horsepower and less aero grip. I’m not really sure why the tapered spacer is needed at Martinsville, but it looked like some drivers could have completed passes if they’d had more throttle response. Yes, higher-horsepower engines can be built, but in the meantime, take off the spacers at tracks where it is safe to do so. Reducing downforce from the top of the cars with the shorter spoiler was a start — this year’s edition was better than the 2022 spring race. But taking from the top AND bottom by raising the ride height drastically would make mechanical grip the key to passing instead of aero.

Damcott: The opportunity for strategy left this year’s spring Martinsville as a much better race than the spring race last year. That said, one of the reasons it’s so hard to pass is because the Next Gen car is a beast to try to even move on slower tracks. You can’t really bump and run anymore, so you need to be a lot more aggressive to make passes. The package might be an issue, sure, but the stiffness of the cars makes it near impossible to move a guy out of the way without just running through him.

Kristl: Despite all the penalties on Cup teams due to modifications, NASCAR ought to consider allowing the teams to really work on the racecars. Could these single-vendor parts be altered within a tolerance? Yes, in many ways the Next Gen car is a kit car, so NASCAR should be willing to allow teams to make more adjustments. As a compromise not to face utter embarrassment, NASCAR could allow teams to make adjustments to a few parts, but if teams fail inspection on those parts, there will be a more severe penalty without any ability to appeal.

Tomlinson: Some people like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett have suggested eliminating shifting, while some others mention higher horsepower. I liked the different strategies in play on Sunday, but I do wish there were more passes for the lead on the track. Maybe if NASCAR worked with Goodyear to create more falloff on the tires, it would allow for more passing on the track.

Derek Kraus has scored two top 10s in his two NASCAR Xfinity Series races. Has he proven he deserves another full-time opportunity somewhere?

Damcott: I would like to see Derek Kraus in a top-dog car, as McAnally-Hilgemann Racing was not much of a top-tier NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team when Kraus was with it. However, MHR has seemed to improve once Kraus departed the team, so it’s hard to say. Maybe it was just a bad connection and both parties needed to move on. I’d like to see a little bit more out of Kraus than just two races, but if he runs more and continues to be consistent, the conversation of whether or not he’s worthy of another full-time ride should be reopened.

Neff: Don’t forget, Tony Stewart didn’t win an Xfinity race until well after he was moved up to Cup. It would seem that Kraus needs more seasoning, but a ride in a higher series wouldn’t be a shock.

Henderson: Yes. Not every driver thrives in every racecar. If Jimmie Johnson‘s career advancement had depended only on his Xfinity performance, he probably would not have had a chance to race a top Cup car. The heavier, more powerful Cup cars at the time suited him better. I’d like to see what Kraus could do in a decent Xfinity car; if it suits his driving style, it could give him a better chance to improve as a driver.

Kristl: Kaulig Racing has race-winning equipment. But as Christian Eckes has already proven and Jake Garcia is showcasing, MHR has good equipment too. While Kraus has 13 combined wins in the ARCA Menards Series regional series, he didn’t excel in three Truck seasons. Should Kaulig be willing to give Kraus more races in the No. 10? Sure, but let’s temper the expectations.

Tomlinson: Yes. He showed he could lead laps last year and was close to winning at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. He also led a few laps after starting on the pole last fall at Bristol Motor Speedway, though he finished sixth. Additionally, he finished second at Darlington Raceway in 2020. I wonder if it was just bad luck last year, or if he needed a different crew chief. Either way, he still deserves another chance. Maybe Xfinity is the way to go since trucks drive and race so differently.

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Did You Notice?: Kyle Larson Reaching NASCAR Hall of Fame Territory

What grade do you give the rain tires used in the Truck race at Martinsville?

Kristl: B, because the race was completed with inclement weather. The racing was still good. Now, as for NASCAR’s officiating in terms of dealing with the switch between rain tires and regular stickers, F. Multiple drivers said post-race the racing could have continued despite NASCAR ending the event. Furthermore, NASCAR threw caution flags to allow teams to switch tires rather than treat them like professionals and allow them to make their own decisions. Also, NASCAR wasted so many laps under caution, it was awful. So if NASCAR intends on allowing rain tires at ovals, it must significantly improve its officiating. Because that took away from a good product.

Damcott: A solid B+. The tires served their purpose and seemed to work really well. The issue lies in just how wet a track can be before rain tires are no longer useful, because it seemed that the tires couldn’t get more than just damp before the race had to be halted. If they were full weather tires, the race probably would have gotten all 200 laps in.

Tomlinson: Perhaps a B? It wasn’t so much the tires but how long they were used, almost as if NASCAR was afraid to keep the trucks out too long. Of course, I understand it was at night, and there’s always the risk of not enough visibility when the rain comes down hard. I’d like to see them when it’s more of a mist or something to see how they’ll affect the full race.

Neff: They deserve an A. Trucks were able to race. They were durable. They let the race start earlier than a full track dry would have taken. Hopefully we will see further development.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Dawg

As for John Hunter, sponsorship is always a factor. But as an incoming rookie, his starting salery will be considerably less than either of the Gibbs drivers he’d be replacing. He’s not strictly a rookie, because he already has a season under his belt, which can’t hurt.

Another scenario, could be Stewart Hass trying to make a bid for him in an effort to hold onto the Busch Beer sponsorship. Assuming that Chastain isn’t a done deal.

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