Denny Hamlin, John Hunter Nemechek Lock Down NASCAR Cup Seats for 2024

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Hamlin, Nemechek Lock Down '24 NASCAR Cup SeatsJared C. Tilton - Getty Images

A couple of NASCAR team/driver pairings for 2024 and beyond have been confirmed in the past few days. One was almost expected; the other, not so much. And some might suggest that the first signing could have led to the second.

Early in the week, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that 50-race winner Denny Hamlin has extended his contract with the No. 11 Toyota team. At 42, the three-time Daytona 500 winner has spent his entire 20-year Cup Series career with the Gibbs organization. Terms of the multi-year extension were not disclosed, but the extension isn’t expected to be more than three years.

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Denny Hamlin will compete in the NASCAR Cup Series at the age of 43 in 2024.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

During the season, both Hamlin and Gibbs expressed optimism they would get a deal done in this contract option year. It seemed a foregone conclusion Hamlin would stay with the Toyota-based organization since he’s part-owner with Michael Jordan of Toyota-based 23XI Racing. It would have been awkward for Hamlin to move to another manufacturer and still maintain a business relationship with Toyota at 23XI.


The other signing came as something of a surprise: John Hunter Nemechek has signed to drive next year for co-owners Maury Gallagher and Jimmie Johnson at Legacy Motor Club. The team fields No. 42 Chevrolets this year, but will switch to Toyota for 2024 and beyond.

Nemechek, a second-generation driver from Florida, will team with full-schedule driver Erik Jones and Johnson, who plans to run a limited schedule again in 2024. Jones will remain in the No. 43 car and Johnson will stay in the No. 84. Noah Gragson began the season in the No. 42 at LMC, but was fired several months ago for an improper posting on social media. The organization will continue to use substitute drivers the rest of this season.

John Hunter’s father, Joe, won 16 Xfinity Series races and four Cup Series races in a career that began in 1993 and ended with his retirement in 2019. John Hunter’s older brother, 27-year-old John, was killed in a Truck Series crash at Homestead in 1977, three months before John Hunter was born. Johnson and Joe Nemechek were Hendrick Motorsports teammates in 2002 and 2003, when John Hunter was just a toddler.

Cal Wells III, the CEO at Legacy Motor Club, has known the younger Nemechek almost from birth. “He’s been around race tracks literally since the day he was born,” he said. “I’ve watched him since he was a kid – from walking around the track in a fire suit matching the one worn by his father - to becoming the talent he is today. He is a perfect fit for the Club and I expect great things out of him.”

After several years away from Cup, the 26-year-old is ready to re-establish himself and his family name. “To be able to announce my plans and say I’ll be competing full-time relieves a lot of pressure,” he said at mid-week. “There’s so much to be done for next year and this gives us the opportunity to get the news out and move forward.”

Nemechek began in the Truck Series in 2013 as a 16-year-old, had a forgettable 2020 Cup Series season with owner Bob Jenkins, and returned to the Truck Series in 2021 with Kyle Busch Motorsports. His career resume shows seven Xfinity victories – five this year with Joe Gibbs Racing – and 13 in the Truck Series.

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John Hunter Nemechek got a taste of the Cup Series in 2020.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

“Going back to the Truck Series was humbling in a way, but it was the best thing I ever did for myself and my career,” Nemechek said. “I was able to compete for wins and two championships for KBM. We won (seven) races and were consistently one of the teams to beat week in and week out.”

After finishing third and fifth in CTS points for KBM in 2021 and 2022, Nemechek signed with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program. He’s already won five times, has a dozen top-5 finishes, 18 top-10s, and is second-ranked behind Austin Hill going into this weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway. He’ll begin his Cup Series tenure with Legacy Motor Club in next year’s season-opening Daytona 500.

A footnote: it might be telling that Nemechek signed with Legacy only after Hamlin extended with Gibbs. If Hamlin had left JGR after this season to drive for his own 23XI team, Nemechek would have been the logical choice to replace him at JGR.