Nemechek likes excitement of new championship race

November 16, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

HARRODSBURG - When the rest of the nation watches the final race of the year Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to see who wins the Nextel Cup points championship, Joe Nemechek could help determine who eventually comes out on top.

Nemechek is not one of the drivers in position to win the points championship, but he'll be driving in Sunday's race hoping to improve on his 18th-place standing.

While the veteran driver says it is impossible to predict who will win, he knows who he thinks has the best chance to emerge as the points leader.

"If I had to guess, Kurt Busch beat me in that race two years ago. I had the best car, but he had a good pit stop at the end and got ahead of me," Nemechek said Monday. "He runs good at Homestead. Mark Martin is going to run good. But I am going to say that the race will be between Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. That's my guess."


Busch leads Johnson, who has won four of the last nine races, by 18 points going into Sunday's race at Homestead, Fla. However, fifth-place Martin is only 82 points behind and Tony Stewart in sixth place is 182 points behind.

"If anybody has problems, that's the cool thing," Nemechek said. "The top six guys are all in position that if we have a wreck and three of them are in it, it changes the whole complexion of who wins the championship. But if no one has problems, it will be tough for it to be between anyone but Johnson and Busch."

Felt he had contending car last week

Nemechek knows what can happen in a race. He won earlier this season at Kansas City, his fourth NASCAR victory, and felt he had a contending car last week at Darlington, S.C. However, pit strategy did not go his way and he finished eighth.

"We drove up to third place in the first run and really were good," Nemechek said. "Everybody went through green-flag pit stops, but some guys that weren't running good short pitted. When you do that, you can run two or three seconds faster a lap for a short period, which is big. We stayed out 10 laps longer than anybody and lost track position. The downfall to pitting early is that if the caution had come out, all those guys would have been down two laps. But it didn't work out that way."

Nemechek, 41, didn't have long to rest. He came to Washington County Monday to attend a pizza party for Amber Grigsby of Harrodsburg, a third-grade student who won Cellular One's national coloring contest. He received a standing ovation from the 500 students at the elementary school in Willisburg when he left.

His next stop was at the grand opening of Cellular One's new store here. He took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and then signed autographs for NASCAR fans of all ages.

"It's part of my job to do this," Nemechek said. "You want to be with the people who support you."

Nemechek drives the No. 87 Cellular One Monte Carlo in the Busch Series. He's 32nd in the points standing in his limited appearances. He has one win and five top 10 finishes in 17 starts and has earned $366,074 this year.

A strong finish to season

He is 18th in the Nextel Cup standings with one race remaining driving the #1 U.S. Army Chevrolet. In 35 starts, he has one win, three top five finishes and nine top 10 finishes. He's earned $3,799,040 this season.

"It has been an up down year," Nemechek, who has six top 10 finishes in the last nine races, said. "We started off really good. Then we slumped where everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The last half of the year has been really good. My team is giving me good equipment and a good car every week. We have been able to put races together and be there at the end when it counts.

"It's fun driving these cars when you have a good-driving race car. When things don't drive right, it's not a fun day. We have had some races where cars have not been right. But I've been working with my crew chief to get the setups I need to go fast and have been hitting pretty good lately."

Next year he hopes to contend for a spot in the top 10 going into the last 10 races and have a chance to win the points championship under the new format NASCAR designed this season.

"I think most drivers like the new system," Nemechek said. "It's definitely been more exciting for the fans. It has made the racing tougher and made it harder to win the championship, but I think that is what NASCAR was looking for. It has changed the way we race a little bit. You just have to be really good the first 26 races to get into position to race for the championship the last 10 races."

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