By Army News ServiceOctober 4, 2006
KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Army News Service, Oct. 3, 2006) - "We were a splash of fuel away from having a good day," said Joe Nemechek after finishing 27th in Sunday's Nextel Cup race.
Nemechek was referring to his U.S. Army Chevrolet running out of gas with three laps remaining in the 267-lap, 400-mile race at Kansas Speedway.
The final green-flag run came down to a fuel-mileage contest, leaving Army crew chief Ryan Pemberton with a difficult decision to pit or not to pit. He decided against pitting for fuel because he felt there was more to gain than to lose in track position on the 1.5-mile oval.
"Had we pitted for fuel we might have picked up a couple of positions and finished 24th or 25th," said Pemberton. "But had we made it, we were looking at a top-12 finish. We didn't have much to lose so we went for it."
Tony Stewart and Casey Mears, who finished first and second respectively, both ran out of fuel on the final lap, but managed to coast to the checkered flag without getting passed.
"This was the kind of ending to a race where you're forced to roll the dice," said Nemechek. "Sometimes you make it, and as you saw with our Army team today, sometimes you don't. It was the right call under the circumstances."
Judging by the number of bad breaks that befell Nemechek during the race, it would have probably been more surprising had he not run out of fuel.
For starters, on the first pit stop (Lap 10), Nemechek was turned sideways by the No. 10 car (Scott Riggs) as he was entering his pit stall. That sent the 01 Army car to the back.
Nemechek did come back strong as he battled his way through the field, thanks to aggressive driving, quick pit stops and sound race strategy.
But while running in 15th place on Lap 196, Nemechek's momentum was stalled again. This time it was for speeding on pit road and the penalty sent him to the back of the field.
"What bothers me most about the (speeding) call is when NASCAR informed us about the penalty," said Pemberton. "Had NASCAR told us when the infraction happened, Joe would have had time to come in to top off the fuel tank and we wouldn't have had the fuel issue at the end. We ran a couple of caution laps before NASCAR told us about the speeding penalty. And when they did tell us, the green flag was ready to drop to restart the race."
With all that happened to the 01 team, Nemechek left the race disappointed, but not dejected with the final result.
"We were close," said Nemechek. "We had handling issues early, but the Army Chevy got better during the second half of the race. Had a few breaks gone our way, it could have been a pretty good day. We're still looking for that clean race that will get us headed in the right direction. Again, this is the Soldiers' car and we will never quit."
The next race for the Army team is Oct. 8 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Nemechek will also drive in the Craftsman Truck race on Oct. 7 in Talladega. He will pilot the No. 46 U.S. Army Silverado, owned and operated by Morgan-Dollar Motorsports.