NASCAR Xfinity Series
By Zach Sturniolo
Published: 8 Dec, 2022
5 Minute Read
CONCORD, N.C. – Joe Gibbs Racing supplemented its driver lineup for the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Thursday, moving John Hunter Nemechek into a full-time role in 2023.
Nemechek is set to drive the No. 20 Toyota next season, with Ben Beshore serving as the team’s crew chief. He joins new teammate Sammy Smith, who was named Tuesday as the driver of JGR’s No. 18 GR Supra.
JGR brings the No. 20 back to the Xfinity Series after one year out of its car number rotation. The number was last campaigned by Burton in 2021.
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The addition of Nemechek was announced ahead of a formal introduction later Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Toyota’s other affiliated Xfinity Series team – Sam Hunt Racing – also unveiled its plans for 2023.
Nemechek, who raced part-time for both JGR and Sam Hunt Racing in 2021 and 2022, competed for championships in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series over the past two seasons, piloting the No. 4 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The move was an admitted gamble by the now 25-year-old, who chose to head to trucks after competing full-time in the premier NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 with Front Row Motorsports.
Standing outside the Paddock Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nemechek reflected on the bet he made on himself that leads him to the No. 20 Toyota GR Supra – the team that enters the 2023 Xfinity Series season as defending champions as the No. 54 team previously headed by driver Ty Gibbs and crew chief Chris Gayle now renumbers.
“I think I’ve grown a lot, that I’m OK with taking risks at times to try and better myself,” Nemechek told NASCAR.com. “But I think the biggest thing is to continue to learn every single day and try and be better every single day. You want to push yourself as hard as you can to learn and continue learning every day to set yourself up for a better spot in the future and try to make yourself a better person off the race track as well as on the race track and just overall a better race car driver.
“I think that there’s a lot to be said about taking a gamble at times but believing in yourself as well.”
Nemechek competed in JGR’s No. 18 Toyota in three Xfinity races last season and drove for Sam Hunt Racing in eight other events. In the Truck Series, he scored two wins, seven pole positions and placed fifth in the final standings for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
The initial move back to the Truck Series puzzled some, but Nemechek saw an opportunity to regularly compete for wins and championships, hoping a possible path to the Cup Series could someday present itself. Nemechek, now a husband to wife Taylor and father to daughter Aspen, is conscious of his future but centering on the tasks at hand first.
“I don’t know where my future lies,” said Nemechek, who made one Cup start for 23XI Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2022. “I’m excited about this opportunity, focusing on 2023. I feel like being able to go and win races and prove myself will help set me up for a future, but I don’t know what that future may be. So all in all, it’s focusing on the present, focusing on the opportunity at hand to try and go win a lot of races for Toyota, TRD, all of our great partners, as well as everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing.”
JGR also announced that Mobil 1 would be the primary sponsor of the No. 20 Toyota. Nemechek’s entry will also be backed by partners Berry’s Bullets, Pye Barker Fire and Safety and Romco Equipment.
Nemechek has won twice in the Xfinity Series, and his most recent victory came with Joe Gibbs Racing at Texas Motor Speedway in 2021. He is a 13-time winner in the Truck Series, with seven of those wins arriving under the KBM banner in the last two seasons.
His only full-time season in the Xfinity Series came in 2019 when he scored six top fives and 19 top 10s en route to a playoff berth and seventh-place finish in points. Running one-third of the schedule in 2022 helped keep Nemechek fresh, but he admitted room for improvement heading into a new campaign.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but I feel like I need to do better at figuring out this playoff format,” Nemechek said. “I didn’t execute very well over the past couple years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the opportunity that I had at hand to win two championships, so there’s definitely some focus on that for me.
“Just trying to get myself better to go out and win a championship. That’s one thing that I haven’t done yet. So just focusing on trying to win races, trying to better on and off the race track, putting in different processes, but overall just trusting in the process and pushing as hard as I can.”
Despite entering the year with the title-defending team, the only pressure Nemechek concerns himself with is self-applied, noting he’s his own worst critic.
“I put the most pressure on myself from anyone that’s around me,” Nemechek said. “I know in situations where I may mess up, or I may make a mistake, and I’m hard on myself for that. But at the same time, that’s how I learn. So for me, it’s all about pushing to be better every single time that you hit the race track and learning every single time that you’re on the race track and off the race track. Just excited.”
Beshore returns to JGR’s Xfinity Series effort after working the last two seasons in the Cup Series as crew chief to Kyle Busch on the No. 18 Toyota. Beshore scored three Cup victories together with Busch and is an eight-time winner in Xfinity competition – notching four wins each with Busch and Harrison Burton.
Both of JGR’s full-time drivers from last season will be racing in different surroundings next year. Ty Gibbs, who claimed the Xfinity Series championship on Nov. 5, will race for his grandfather’s team in the Cup Series in 2023. Brandon Jones will be back for his eighth full season in Xfinity but will shift to the JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet next year.
Joe Gibbs Racing went back-to-back in the drivers’ championship hunt the last two Xfinity Series seasons, winning with Daniel Hemric in 2021 and Ty Gibbs this year.