By Seth Sharp – The 2004 Nextel Cup season did not go the way @FrontRowJoe87 expected it to. During his first full year with MB2 Motorsports driving the No. 01 Army Chevrolet, Nemechek struggled for most of the season although he did have some bright spots.
After finishing sixth in the Daytona 500, struggles ensued until the series returned to Daytona in July, where Nemechek picked up a 10th place finish. The following week at Chicago he finished eighth, earning back-to-back top-10s for the first time all season.
Heading into the race at the Kansas Speedway in October where he would be pulling double duty, Nemechek was coming off two top-10s in the previous three races, including a pole at Talladega. On the Busch Series side he was experiencing a down year of sorts, only finishing in the top-10 four times in 14 races, highlighted by a season high seventh place finish at Fontana. Nemechek had competed in all three Nextel Cup and all three Busch Series races held at the Kansas Speedway since the track opened in 2001. In 2002 he finished third in the Busch race while coming home fourth on Sunday.
The weekend started out on a great note for the Florida native as he won the pole for the Cup race. It was the second straight week that “Front Row Joe” would start on the point. On the other hand he struggled a bit during Busch qualifying, ending up just 19th fastest.
Once the green flag waved for the Mr. Goodcents 300, Nemechek slowly came up through the field. @TonyStewart, who was driving a Dale Earnhardt Incorporated car, dominated the race. Late though Nemechek had not only made his way into the top-five but winning contention. With a few laps left in the race, he made a pass for second place with his eyes set on the race leader Stewart. On the final lap the two made contact, which sent Stewart hard into the wall and set up a green-white-checkered finish with Nemechek leading the field. With a half a lap left, @GBiffle dove underneath Nemechek as the two went side-by-side for the final two turns. They were still side-by-side heading towards the start-finish line as Nemechek edged Biffle for the win in an exciting photo finish.
With a Busch Series win under his belt and a fast car that started first for the Cup race, Nemechek had all the momentum in the world for the race on Sunday. He led the first four laps of the race before starting to slowly drift back into the field. By Lap 34 he was seventh. By Lap 100 he drifted back to 14th. After a caution for @CJMearsGang (Casey Mears) with under 70 laps to go, Nemechek restarted 13th after the field came in for pit stops. The caution was exactly what Nemechek needed as he quickly made his way back to the front.
On Lap 131 (37 laps to go), he took the lead from @Elliott_Sadler. Two more late race cautions came out, putting Nemechek on the verge of making it to the end without having to make one more pit stop for fuel. On the final restart with 13 laps to go, Nemechek jumped out to a quick lead and began to conserve fuel. Ricky Rudd, who had enough fuel to make it to the end, caught Nemechek with two laps to go. The two battled side-by-side as they took the white flag. Nemechek drove his Army Chevrolet deep into Turn 1 to emerge with a one-car length lead on Rudd down the backstretch. Out of Turn 4, Rudd dove to the apron in a last ditch effort for the win, coming up short as Nemechek claimed a win at Kansas for the second straight day.
Nemechek was ecstatic in victory lane after picking up his fourth career Nextel Cup Series victory and first in 54 races. During his post race interview, he repeatedly kept saying “This is just an incredible day.” He also said that after winning the Busch Series race on Saturday, his two crew chiefs talked and compared setups, with Nextel Cup crew chief Ryan Pemberton making changes to Nemechek’s Cup car.
To this day, Nemechek holds the only weekend sweep in Kansas Speedway history.
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