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Nemechek gets unexpected win

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2004

 

  Joe Nemechek celebrates with his crew at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004, after winning the NASCAR Banquet 400. AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Joe Nemechek celebrates with his crew at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004, after winning the NASCAR Banquet 400.

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

KANSAS CITY, Kan. The biggest gripe about NASCAR's new 10-man Chase for the Nextel Cup championship was that the drivers not in the title battle would be ignored.

Nobody could ignore Joe Nemechek on Sunday after he held off Ricky Rudd to win the Banquet 400 and finish off a weekend sweep at Kansas Speedway.

''The guys in the championship chase have more to lose than we do,'' Nemechek said. ''We're on the offense, not on defense.''

This one was almost as close as his half car-length victory over Greg Biffle in the Busch Series event Saturday, with Nemechek and Rudd racing side-by-side and bumping once with a lap to go before Nemechek took control again and beat Rudd to the finish by 0.081 seconds about 1 1/4 car-lengths.

Nemechek, who did a backward victory lap on the 1 1/2-mile oval to honor the memory of his brother, John, killed in a truck race in Homestead, Fla., in 1997, was relieved to win after nearly getting too conservative at the end.

''There at the end I was trying to save gas and here come Ricky Rudd out of nowhere,'' Nemechek said. ''I was like, 'Holy Moley.' I had to get back on it. He got beside me one time, but I wasn't going to let it happen.''

Rudd raced to only his second top-10 finish of the year, both coming since being reunited with crew chief Michael ''Fatback'' McSwain in August.

Nemechek was among a group of 10 drivers who stayed on track when cars ahead of them pitted during a caution period late in the race, moving from 14th to fourth as Biffle and Jeremy Mayfield, who were 1-2 at the time, were among the leaders who did pit.

Another yellow flag on the ensuing restart left him in the same spot, but the veteran racer, who started from the pole for the second straight race, charged to the front once the green flag waved for lap 218 of the 267-lap event.

He passed Rudd and Jamie McMurray and dueled with championship contender Elliott Sadler before grabbing the lead on lap 231, staying out front the rest of the way for his fourth career victory and first since May 2003 at Richmond. It is the first time since the championship battle began last month at New Hampshire that one of the title contenders has not won.

Biffle finished third Sunday, followed by Sadler, Mayfield and Kurt Busch, who came into the race with a 12-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Nextel Cup standings and finished Sunday leading Earnhardt, who finished ninth, by 29 points.

Jeff Gordon, who finished 13th, is third, 79 points behind after four of 10 races in NASCAR's new championship format.

With six races remaining, Sadler is fourth in the standings, trailing Busch by 143 points, followed by Mark Martin, who finished 20th Sunday and is 150 points behind.



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