Daytona 500: Joe Nemechek preview

Inspired by Soldiers, Nemechek Ready for 2004 Tour DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 3, 2004) -- "The mission is simple," said Joe Nemechek, known as GI Joe, driver of the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet. "Our soldiers are putting their lives on the line for...

Inspired by Soldiers, Nemechek Ready for 2004 Tour

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 3, 2004) -- "The mission is simple," said Joe Nemechek, known as GI Joe, driver of the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet. "Our soldiers are putting their lives on the line for us everyday to protect our freedom and it's our job to put their car in victory lane."

Nemechek and the Army of One NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team are planning to get to the front early in the 36-race schedule, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500.

"When I first started with the 01 team last year, Lt. Gen. (Dennis) Cavin told me, 'we don't get points for finishing second in theU.S. Army,' " Nemechek recalled. "It was a short, but powerful message that pretty much simplified our point system. The message has stuck with me and that will be our approach for 2004. We're here to win."

Nemechek took over the Army ride at the final four races of the 2003 season.

"Being with the team at the end of last yearwas a huge bonus," said Nemechek, who qualified in the top 10 at each of the events. "I did learn that we are capable of achieving success. If we stay focused, make the right calls, we're going to end up in victory lane. I truly feel this Army team has a bright future."

Nemechek, 40, said his emotional off-season visits with soldiers has him even more inspired about driving the Army car in 2004.

"I saw both sides of our soldiers' schedules -- going into action and coming home," said Nemechek. "I also visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"I was not only moved by the visits, but also impressed how positive everyone was. We support our troops and they support us. I want nothing more than to have success on the track and make our soldiers proud of their 01 Army race team."

Nemechek, who will also compete in the NASCAR Busch Series race (Feb. 14) in his NEMCO Motorsports-owned No. 87 entry, says racing in the Daytona 500 can be a hair-raising experience at times.

"A 43-car pack for 200 laps, 500 miles and three wide forces you to stay focused for a long time," said Nemechek, a native of Lakeland, Fla. "Some of the rule packages that NASCAR comes up with for this race are more interesting than others.However, I think the rules for this year's 500 are going to make for good racing. The bigger spoilers will create more drag and keep everybody bunched up."

And being bunched up also means how important it is to find a compatible drafting partner -- at least for a good portion of the race.

"It's nice having someone to rely on to get a push," said Nemechek. "But realistically, it's tough to use a partner all day because at some point of the race you're going to end up hanging him out or he's going to end up hanging you out. It's just typical restrictor-plate racing."

Though the historic 500-mile race -- contested on the high banks of the famed 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway tri-oval -- is slated for Feb. 15, the buildup for NASCAR's big dance is a marathon of sorts.

"We're there for a long time, but then again it's like having three races," explained Nemechek, who captured the pole at Daytona in the 1999 summer race. "We have Pole Day (Feb. 8), the Twin 125 qualifying race (Feb. 12) and the 500.

"Every event is important. We need to have a good qualifying run because being back in (owner) points you don't have a lot of cushion to fall back on for a provisional if something does happen in the Twin 125 race.

"You just want to make sure you're in the Daytona 500. If you're in, it's the kind of a race where you can get to the front quickly."

About His Daytona 500 Finishes: (best finish was 11th in 2001)

"I've never had the finishes that I probably should have had in the Daytona 500. I had great cars, led some laps but seemed to get caught up in wrecks. You never know what's going to happen there -- one guy makes a bad mistake and all of a sudden you're right in the middle of it."

About The New Point System:

"Are we still talking about that? Listen, it is what it is -- you play by the rules. You still have to have consistently good finishes. That hasn't changed.

"But as far as locking up the top 10 in points with 10 races remaining -- I am not really sure about that. However, giving more points for a win is good. That should have been done a long time ago."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Joe Nemechek
Teams NEMCO Motorsports