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Top 20 preview: Nemechek close to cracking Chase
Believe me when I say this... Joe Nemechek was this close to making the Chase for the Nextel Cup last season. No, seriously. The No. 01 U.S. Army Chevy was on its way to winning the second race of the season at California when the engine blew. Two weeks later, Nemechek was in the hunt at Atlanta when he lost another motor. He also looked like the favorite to visit Victory Lane during both Charlotte races, both Michigan races and made a little noise at Talladega as well. Despite the slew of near-misses, Nemechek still managed to score more top-10 finishes than the much more hyped likes of Kasey Kahne, Dale Jarrett and Michael Waltrip.
Why He Will Finish 16th
MB2 Motorsports is racing's version of the Minnesota Twins. On paper, there seems to be no way that a team of medium size and relatively meager means can hang with the superpower likes of Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs and Yates. Yet every season, they manage to show up and hold their own. Nemechek has finished 19th and 16th in points over the last two seasons, and MB2 has placed six cars inside the top 20 since 1998. All while leasing engines instead of building them, fielding two cars versus teams of three to five and scrambling to keep sponsors and crew members from walking away to join the big boys.
"It isn't smoke and mirrors," says Nemechek, who came to MB2 from uber-power Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2002. "These guys work their butts off. They know that if they work just a little harder than the other guy, then they can catch them napping."
The All-Telling, All-Knowing Stat: 1,069
That's the combined number of Cup races started by Nemechek and new teammate Sterling Marlin, Marlin racking up 675 starts to Nemechek's 394. The pair also owns 14 wins, 101 top fives, 274 top tens and 20 poles. If experience counts for anything anymore, then this pairing is in good shape.
Fantasy Lock: Atlanta
Nemechek has won on four different tracks in his Cup career Kansas, Loudon, Richmond and Rockingham. Amazingly, the Atlanta Motor Speedway is not on that list. He owns six top 10's and three top 5's at AMS, both personal bests. And for a driver who has had a long history of DNF's (76 total in his career), he has failed to finish five of 24 races in central Georgia. Over his last seven Atlanta starts, he has posted four top 10's and was headed to a fifth before popping an engine last March.
Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images He can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.