Daytona 500: Joe Nemechek race report

Presidential visit, Army pride spur Nemechek to career best Daytona 500 finish. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 2004) -- Joe Nemechek was definitely pumped. When President George W. Bush emerged from his motorcade at Sunday's Daytona 500, ...

Presidential visit, Army pride spur Nemechek to career best Daytona 500 finish.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 2004) -- Joe Nemechek was definitely pumped.

When President George W. Bush emerged from his motorcade at Sunday's Daytona 500, Nemechek knew he would come face-to-face with a great opportunity and he wasn't about to let it slip by.

When he met the president, Nemechek voiced his pride in driving the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet, and the president expressed his gratitude in return. The day's momentum never broke, and Nemechek never faltered, placing sixth in his personal best Daytona 500 opener.

"I pointed to my chest and said 'Army' to President Bush," explained Nemechek in post-race interviews. "I then shook his hand, gave him my coin and told him that I am proud to represent you. He said, 'I'm proud to have you representing us.' He is the first president I've ever met up close. That was very cool."

That set the stage for Nemechek, who had been consistently strong in the U.S. Army/USG car since last month's test session here at Daytona International Speedway.

"Everybody has been calm, we get along great and know each other well," said Nemechek, whose previous best finish in NASCAR's season opener was 11th in 2001. "Ryan (crew chief Ryan Pemberton) and the crew gave me an awesome car today. And the pit crew did an excellent job, especially on the last stop.

"Hopefully this will be the way the whole season will go for the Army team. If it goes like today, we'll be a contender. "

Nemechek started the 200-lap, 500-mile race from the 14th position. He ran in the top 10 for the majority of the race with a steady performance in his black and gold Army of One car.

But the veteran driver did admit that he had some luck on his side when he missed the "Big One" that involved 12 cars on lap 70.

"I was two cars behind it," recalled Nemechek. "I saw it happening and dove to the inside. I don't know how in the world it didn't get me. Someone shot across my hood, but never touched me. I couldn't believe it. I told the guys luck is on our side today.

Nemechek might have called it luck, but television replays showed he did a brilliant driving job in avoiding the accident.

"Joe was outstanding today," said Pemberton. "He gave us the break we needed when he got by that wreck. And in this business one break makes a huge difference. We knew we had a good car and it would have been a shame had we not come home with a solid finish."

The next stop for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will be Sunday (Feb. 22) at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Joe Nemechek