|SOURCE: ABC / ESPN|
|SOURCE: Robert Taylor|
The finish was Nemechek’s second of 2013 and his first since this year’s Daytona 500, twenty-three races ago.
The finish also ties Nemechek with the late J.D. McDuffie for the most last-place finishes in Sprint Cup history. McDuffie has had sole possession of the record since September 7, 1980, when he scored his 20th finish at Richmond, Virginia. The Sanford, North Carolina driver scored his 32nd finish on August 11, 1991, the day he lost his life in a Lap 5 crash during the Budweiser at the Glen. The finish occurred in McDuffie’s 27th season on the Cup tour in his 653rd start. Nemechek’s 32nd finish came in his 639th Cup start in his 21st season.
Nemechek and McDuffie share much more than a last-place record. Both are older owner-drivers in NASCAR who have fought against financial uncertainty and competitive disadvantages to remain in NASCAR’s top division. McDuffie’s challenges stemmed from the sport’s exploding popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as mainstream corporate sponsorship became a fixture in the garage area. Nemechek’s struggles stemmed from the retreat of these sponsors in 2009, when he brought NEMCO Motorsports back to the Cup Series and had to resort to parking in a number of races to conserve his resources. When I interviewed Nemechek in 2010, it was clear the “start-and-park” subject was a touchy one, but also that he, like McDuffie, has done his best to put as much money as he could back into his team.
In 2013, Nemechek’s work has started to pay off. From 2009 through 2012, Nemechek has been the headline at LASTCAR seventeen times. Today, the article you’re reading is just the second Nemechek feature of 2013. Since Daytona, Nemechek’s team has made all but one race this season (a DNQ at Kansas) and Nemechek himself has failed to finish just seven of his twenty-one starts. His best finish of the year has been a 25th at Loudon, scene of his first Cup Series victory in 1999. He’s also had primary sponsorship for all but seven races this season, and at Bristol, he welcomed new primary sponsor Greer Roofing.
Nemechek qualified 37th for Saturday’s race at an average speed of 124.922 mph, the highest-ranked driver who made the field on Owner Points. Mike Bliss timed in 38th-fastest, but fell two hundredths short of making the Top 36, leaving the #19 Humphrey-Smith Racing Toyota with its second-straight DNQ.
Unfortunately, at the start of the race, Nemechek fell to the rear with his car smoking heavily. He made it to pit road without bringing out the yellow flag, but the engine problem the crew diagnosed abruptly ended Nemechek’s race.
Joining Nemechek in the Bottom Five was Ryan Truex, who in his Cup debut driving the #51 SeaWatch Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing swiped the wall at least twice before he brought out the first yellow for hitting the wall in Turn 3 on Lap 42. Michael McDowell’s #98 Ford carried sponsorship from the Victory Junction Camp, his third fully-sponsored run with a team in the last five races, but the engine on his car let go just before halfway. Brake problems sidelined Scott Speed and the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford after 223 laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Carl Edwards, who led 119 of the race’s first 387 laps before he dropped a valve while leading on a restart, taking him out of the race.
The illustration at the top of this article of J.D. McDuffie’s #70 L.C. Whitford Racing Pontiac, the car he drove in his last race, was drawn by Robert Taylor, a motorsports artist from Niagra Falls. I had a great conversation with Robert by phone this week and will be writing a feature about him in September. As it happens, Robert offered to do a drawing of J.D.’s car after our call, a drawing which he completed just as Nemechek tied McDuffie’s record.
*This was the first Cup Series last-place finish at Bristol for both Nemechek and the #87 since 2010, when Joe’s #87 ComputerWorks Toyota broke a rear gear after he completed 30 laps of the Food City 500.
*The single lap Nemechek completed is the fewest laps run by a Cup last-placer in Bristol since August 27, 1988, when Brad Noffsinger also completed just the first lap of the same event, then called the Busch 500, after his #98 Sunoco Buick was involved in a crash. It was Noffsinger’s first and only Cup Series last-place finish. Noffsinger’s car was owned by Mike Curb, who currently co-owns the #98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford driven by Michael McDowell.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #87-Joe Nemechek / 1 lap / engine
42) #51-Ryan Truex / 39 laps / crash
41) #98-Michael McDowell / 175 laps / engine
40) #95-Scott Speed / 223 laps / brakes
39) #99-Carl Edwards / 387 laps / engine / led 119 laps
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Mike Bliss (5)
2nd) Michael McDowell, Scott Riggs (3)
3rd) Bobby Labonte, Joe Nemechek (2)
4th) Trevor Bayne, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Jason Leffler, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, Scott Speed, J.J. Yeley (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #19-Humphrey-Smith Racing (6)
2nd) #44-Xxxtreme Motorsports, #98-Phil Parsons Racing (3)
3rd) #87-NEMCO Motorsports (2)
4th) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #27-Richard Childress Racing, #31-Richard Childress Racing, #36-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #47-JTG Daugherty Racing, #51-Phoenix Racing, #83-BK Racing, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Toyota (11)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Chevrolet (5)