Some of the most uninterestingly shocking bit of news to come out this silly season just got announced this afternoon with the departure of John Hunter Nemechek from Front Row Motorsports. Uninteresting in the sense that not many people who don’t follow Nemechek or Front Row Motorsports will care and shocking because there is seemingly no reason for this split on either side.
John Hunter Nemechek did not have a great year but considering he is a rookie who almost outran his veteran teammate who has 13-year’s experience, it’s a solid start. Early in the year, he was even being propped up along with the other big 3 rookies this season.
In the first half of the year, he was overachieving with his equipment and having great runs, flirting with top tens on a consistent basis. By the second half, he still had those good finishes, but the crashes started to pile up. Going on an 11 race run with 5 crashes hurt him in the middle part of the year.
Even with the crashes, Nemechek was putting up consistently decent finishes. Not only that but he statistically outperformed any season that veteran David Ragan ever had in the same car. Also, outperformed what another rookie in Matt Tifft was able to do on the team last year.
So, the talent was there. There was no reason for FRM to jump ship after one season with a rookie doing well. There is also seemingly no reason for Nemechek to leave since every other decent team’s seats are now filled.
The first thought that I had was that he obviously has a commitment from another team, but there was no clue as to who. We know that Spire Motorsports will be field a second car, but to go from FRM to Spire doesn’t make sense equipment-wise unless the owners of Spire laid out this dynamic plan to become a competitive Cup team in the short term.
There is also the unnamed Matt Tifft and B.J. McLeod team set to run in 2021, but once again I don’t see why he would run away from an established team for worse equipment.
My next thought was who is retiring? Well nobody that we don’t already know about and whose seat hasn’t already been filled. The only driver that could possibly be on the way out either by choice or forced is Ryan Newman in the #6-car. That being said, Roush Fenway Racing is not that much better equipment-wise than FRM. Chris Buescher in the 17-car only finished 2 positions higher in the standings than Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman actually finished 2 spots below McDowell and only 2 spots higher than Nemechek.
So I don’t think that is an opportunity worth leaving for.
My speculative theory is that perhaps Nemechek has gotten an opportunity at a bigger team like Chip Ganassi Racing, a team he drove for in Xfinity. We know that Kurt Busch is near retirement age, and while he’s expressed his desire to race in 2021, anything can change at any time. So, him taking over Kurt Busch’s car is a possibility.
There is also the possibility of CGR starting a third-team either for the long term or just to get him in house to eventually take over for Busch. While teams expanding in 2021 seem unlikely in the current climate, it’s still possible depending on sponsorship.
It’ll be interesting to see what develops from this. What dominoes may start to fall as far as other drivers retiring or being cut. Also, who will take over the #38-car in 2021?