Joe Nemechek took the runner-up spot at the final '02 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in Homestead, FL; and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and rookie Jimmie Johnson finished 5th & 8th, respectively. Year-end results net two drivers...
Joe Nemechek took the runner-up spot at the final '02 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in Homestead, FL; and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and rookie Jimmie Johnson finished 5th & 8th, respectively. Year-end results net two drivers in the top five for Chevrolet with Gordon finishing 4th and Johnson finishing 5th in final Cup standings -- just seven points apart.
JOE NEMECHEK, NO. 25 UAW-DELPHI CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO (finished 2nd in the race):
"We just got behind in that pit stop. Jimmie (Johnson) took just gas and a couple people beat us out of the pits there. We beat the No. 88 (Dale Jarrett) out. We just got bogged down there. I really abused my tires. I've got to say thank you to UAW-Delphi, Chevrolet, GMAC and all these folks that keep this thing going. I'm on board and Peter (Sospenzo) is on board for next year and this is just a sign of things to come."
YOU'VE EXPERIENCED GREAT RESULTS AT THIS RACE TRACK - CAN YOU SUM-UP TODAY'S RUN? "It's a disappointing and yet a successful day. I thought we had the fastest car through most of the day. I don't know if we led the most laps, but I think we did. We ran up front all day. There at the end we lost a bit of ground on pit road. On the re-start, it just took too long to get passed the lapped cars and also my teammates - the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) were finally up there. By the time I got by them, I had pretty much abused my right rear tire and was doing all I could to catch the No. 97 (Kurt Busch) there at the end of the race.
"But it was a good day for the UAW-Delphi Chevy team. These guys have worked really hard. We just need a little bit more luck. I think we're showing them that we're coming on strong and next year is going to be a really good year for us."
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR CAREER AT THIS POINT? "I remembered how to drive about eight weeks ago. I've got a good job for next year. I think I'm in the prime of my career. I turned 39 years old not long ago and I know I can get it done on the race track. It's a matter of getting all the right pieces to the puzzle - crew chef, team, the whole deal is what makes you go fast out there.
"Right now we're on a roll. The last eight weeks, my season has turned around. We've been leading races; we've been up there in the front. Homestead is a tough race track and we ran really good all day long. I've got to thank Papa Joe Hendrick for kind of turning the fire up under Rick and the rest of the guys and giving me an opportunity to come back next year and show what we can do."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR? "Absolutely. And Rick (Hendrick) has promised me that UAW and Delphi are not going to go bankrupt next year so we're going to be in very good shape come Daytona."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO (finished 5th in the race; 4th in the year-end Winston Cup point standings)
"It was just great pit work, great strategy, and track position was everything. There were some good calls by Brian (Whitsell) and Robbie (Loomis) in the pits and I'm real proud of this effort. I thought we were going to get a third or fourth out of it, but we got messing with a few guys and just couldn't get by them. We'll take a fifth place finish and be happy with it."
ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S ROOKIE YEAR: "Ryan (Newman) sure did come on strong the second half of the year, but as far as I'm concerned throughout the whole year, Jimmie has been the man. I'm proud to have him on board at Hendrick Motorsports and to have him as a teammate. I finally got to battle with him a little bit today. He was a hard sucker to pass."
HOW MUCH DOES THIS MAKE YOU WANT TO BE THE CHAMPION? "Any time you've been the champion, all you want from then on is to be the champion. Right now, at the end of the season, we're looking back at where we could have done better and the things we could have done to get us up there into the lead. We're going to go home and try to make sure that we take care of all those things in the off-season to make sure we come out strong next year to win the championship.
"I'm excited about the new Monte Carlo we've got coming out and we're going to be testing it here Monday and Tuesday. I'm excited about some of the things we're doing on the race team. We've got to work on our pit stops a little bit. We've got to work on our pit stops a little bit and we've got to work on the race cars. We've got to work just a little bit on a lot of areas. I think our qualifying is probably the key thing for us next year. We want to start with track position instead of having to get it with no tires or two tire stops."
WHAT WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR IN TOMORROW'S TEST SESSION WITH THE MONTE CARLO? "We're looking for grip and balance in the race car - and speed."
ON COMING ON WITH A GOOD PUSH THE LAST THIRD OF THE SEASON "If you look at just a few things that could have gone differently for us, and we'd be right in the hunt. I'm pretty proud of the effort that was put out with all the circumstances like the pressure of not winning on us all year long, and with my personal issues. With everything that's gone on this year, for us to come out this last third of the season and run the way we've run with that effort, I'm really proud of those guys. I appreciate them a whole lot for what they do to support me. To come out of here with a top five after starting 37th says a lot for us. I think we can gain a lot over the off-season and carry some momentum for next year."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TONY STEWART WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think it's great. He's an awesome race car driver. I think he's well-deserved. He's been close the last couple of years. They did the job. Their championship was won with their race team and their driver behind the wheel and he wheels 'em as good as anybody I've ever seen.
"I know that a lot of people are going to be very critical of him and of what kind of champion he's going to be. You can't change who you are. Just go with it and make it work for you and call yourself Winston Cup champion and move on."
DO YOU THINK WHEN TONY STEWART EXPERIENCES NEW YORK AND THE AWARDS THAT HE'LL COME AWAY A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHAMPION? "I don't know. Tony likes to do things his way and I don't knock him for that. Everybody has something different. Some people enjoy all the attention and some people shy away from it. There's nothing wrong with that. There are certain aspects of it that I enjoy and certain aspects that I don't enjoy. But I just try to enjoy a moment like that as much I can. I think he will and he should. It's a great accomplishment and he knows that."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO (finished 8th in the race, 5th in the year-end Winston Cup point standings)
"I'm a little bummed out right now. I talked Chad (Knaus, crew chief), into going with fuel only (on pit stop). I thought that strategy was going to work for us like it did in California, but it didn't. Here we are -- everyone that was racing there for the win at the end was tight in points -- and where we finished was basically how we were going to finish in points. I was getting pretty frustrated watching those guys go by me.
"But all in all, it has been just an incredible year. I've got to thank everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for all the hard work and dedication of making it exist. And on top of that, I can't say enough for Lowe's all the support from their employee owners and everyone in their corporate offices. That's been a great relationship. It's just the start of great things for us. We got a top five (in the final standings) and we'll go on from here."