Joe nemechek on Phoenix

JOE NEMECHEK (No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo) Nemechek has kicked it up a few notches in the past six races. Since his ninth-place finish at New Hampshire on Sept. 17, the 37-year-old Naples, Fla., native has scored four ...

JOE NEMECHEK (No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo) Nemechek has kicked it up a few notches in the past six races. Since his ninth-place finish at New Hampshire on Sept. 17, the 37-year-old Naples, Fla., native has scored four top-10 finishes, won the pole at Talladega for the Winston 500 and moved from 20th to 15th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. In his first season behind the wheel for car owner Andy Petree, Nemechek will be going for this third straight top-10 finish on Sunday in the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500K at Phoenix International Raceway. Nemechek, who will make his 220th career start on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit on Sunday, started 15th and finished 19th last year at Phoenix. Danny Gill has joined the team as crew chief for the final three races. The team tested last week at Homestead, and Nemechek says he's eager to extend his top-10 streak and try to move up more in the season-long standings.

"I really like racing at Phoenix, but I don't suppose my finishes show that," Nemechek said. "It's a lot like Loudon and Milwaukee. Turns one and two are tight and three and four are more sweeping. You have to give and take at both ends of the track. It's a handling and horsepower track, but that's what they've just about all become. I've run good there on occasion, but the finishes haven't been super good. I tested my Busch Grand National car there last year and still missed the show. We're going to try it again this year. "We've been running real good lately, and it's going to be hard to make changes for these last three races. I'm not sure what role Danny will have with the team at Phoenix. He tested with us at Homestead. That was his first day on the job, so he'll probably have more of a role when we get there. We're just trying to get geared up for next year. "The team has been running good lately. I'm been using my head and trying to drive smarter. The motor guys are doing a great job. That pole at Talladega was great. I'd just about given up on the Front Row Joe deal, but that pole was great and the third-place finish wasn't bad, either. It's good to know that Front Row Joe hasn't gone away. I'm really looking forward to these last three races. I like the flat tracks. We're going to take our Homestead car to Phoenix, and we've got a new car for Homestead. It really ran well down there in the test. We're taking old reliable to Atlanta. That's the Monte Carlo we've won all the money with this season. "The week off was great, but I tested most of the time. I tested my Busch car two days at Homestead and the Cup car for two days. I'll bet we put in between 800-900 miles with those tests, and then we tested the Busch car at Talladega. I'm all out of tests for the season, so that's good. "I got one day at home. I mowed the grass and played with the kids last Saturday. It was great to get a chance to do that for a change. It's a long season, and next season is going to be even longer, but we all love to race. It's been really paying off lately. "I don't know if we can move up much more in the standings with only three races left (Nemechek trails 14th-place Johnny Benson by 143 points). Johnny runs good at all of these tracks coming up and Dale Jr. is right behind us (by 39 points). He'll be good the rest of the way, too. No matter how it turns out, it'll be our best finish ever (his previous best was 26th in 1998). We had some bad luck this season. We've got six DNFs, and it might as well be seven. We wrecked on the first lap at Darlington and it took us 100 laps to get back on the track in that race." "I think we blew four motors and had three wrecks. We'd be styling in the top 10 right now it if hadn't been for those, but everybody can say what if. The way we've been running lately really gives us some momentum, and if we can keep it up and take it into next season, that'll really be great. I'd say my best bet to win a race in the final three would be Atlanta. The last two years at SABCO, we ran well there, and we finished fifth there earlier this season. That was only my fourth race with Andy, and the team is much better now. I've won Busch races twice at Homestead, and with all the testing we did down there, I'm pretty confident about that one, too. "We just really need to get a good run in at Phoenix. Maybe I can get in the Busch race on Saturday and that'll help us out for Sunday. Hopefully we can qualify up front and race up front all day. I know the same guys who are always strong will be strong at Phoenix. Mark Martin is always good there, and Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte were strong out there last year. I guess if Bobby pulls off another top-five finish he'll just about have the championship wrapped up. But Earnhardt has won at Phoenix, too, so you can't ever count him out. There hasn't been a repeat winner there, I don't think, since Davey Allison (1991 and '92), so hopefully that'll be good for the rest of us. It'd be really great to close out the season on a strong note, and a good run at Phoenix would sure help keep this team rolling."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Johnny Benson , Andy Petree , Mark Martin , Davey Allison