DEARBORN - John Hunter Nemechek has provided a number of surprises in the first half of his NASCAR Cup Series rookie season.
Picked at the beginning of the year as an underdog in the 2020 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class behind Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell, Nemechek has served notice that he’s going to challenge for that honor until the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway in November. Going into this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, Nemechek trails only Reddick in the point standings among the four contenders.
In 16 starts this season, Nemechek has a pair of top-10 finishes, including a career-best eighth-place showing at Talladega Superspeedway a couple of weeks ago. But it was the performance he gave in his first race at Darlington Raceway, where he finished ninth, that made people take notice of his ability.
So, while what he’s doing on the track could be considered a surprise to some, there was nothing of the sort when it came time for him to select a Ford vehicle for his daily driver.
“I pretty much knew right away I wanted a Raptor,” said Nemechek, whose father, Joe, drove seven Cup races for Ford and car owner Travis Carter in 2002 as part of a 24-year career. “My first vehicle growing up was a truck and I’ve owned a couple different sports cars that I’ve played around with, but, in the end, the combination of those two made it an easy decision.
“The Raptor literally drives like a luxury sports car, but you still have the use of your truck and can go off-roading and everything else that you can’t do in a sports car,” continued Nemechek. “Having those two elements definitely makes it fun and something that I enjoy driving every single day.”
An added benefit to having a Raptor is being able to use the same course Nemechek helped build in the front yard of his family’s house in North Carolina while competing in motocross competition. The only difference now is that the jolt of taking off and landing on two wheels has been replaced by the sophisticated four-wheel off-road package that makes Raptor a dream on off-road terrain.
“I rode every single day on that course when I was younger, so I’ve been able to take my Raptor off a couple tabletops and get some air in it,” said Nemechek. “It’s a pretty soft landing, which is pretty nice. Not having that harsh landing when you catch air is very nice. It doesn’t jam your back or anything like that because it’s just pretty much a luxury vehicle on a truck chassis. The difference is it has big shocks, big tires and the ability to jump it and do everything a luxury vehicle couldn’t.
“I’ve been able to go out there with some friends and buddies in the back and just have a good old time,” added Nemechek. “It’s a lot of fun being able to slide around in the mud and not get stuck, but I think it would be just as cool to take it in the desert and run around there, too.”
When he’s not entertaining his friends, Nemechek enjoys utilizing the practical benefits Raptor provides, such as ample space to load his go-kart when he wants to get in a few laps at Go Pro Motorplex in Mooresville, NC, or to just have a load of mulch dumped in the back so he can do some yard work.
“Just being able to utilize the truck for everyday chores and being able to still have space and four doors is huge,” said Nemechek. “Plus, the other thing about it is I didn’t know how I was gonna like the twin turbo V6 compared to the V8 that I’ve kind of grown up standard in, and it’s very much surprised me. It’s really cool to be able to have that and still produce as much power as it does underneath the hood.
“I still feel like Raptor turns heads because of the body lines and the sleek design that they have,” continued Nemechek. “I mean, who doesn’t want to drive something that’s named Raptor?”