By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s running of the Hollywood Casino 400, it’s time again for another edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” researching a race from the track’s past. With Kansas only being on the schedule since 2001, the track hasn’t built up the numerous memorable races like other tracks have, but in 2004, Joe Nemechek provided one of the more memorable moments in the track’s short history.
Much like he did for a good portion of his career, Joe Nemechek was pulling double duty in both the Cup Series and Busch Series that October weekend, but no one could see just how special the weekend would become for Nemechek.
The weekend did not get off to the best start as Nemechek would qualify 18th for the Busch Series’ Mr. Goodcents 300. However, Nemechek would work his way into the top-10 by lap 40 and into the top-five over the next 120 laps. As Tony Stewart led the way late in the race, Nemechek gained on the No. 81 car lap after lap and with just two laps to go, Nemechek was all over Stewart for the race lead. As the two drivers headed down the backstretch en route to taking the white flag, Stewart dipped low and Nemechek got into the right rear of Stewart’s car, sending him spinning head on into the outside wall on the backstretch.
With the spin, the dominant car of the day was out of the running for the win and Nemechek led as the race went into a green-white-checkered flag finish. As the race restarted, Nemechek led Greg Biffle around the next to last lap, but on the final lap of the race, Biffle was able to get side by side with Nemechek’s No. 87 car and the two would remain side by side all the way to the finish line, where Nemechek would beat Biffle to the line by .041 seconds.
The Cup Series’ Banquet 400 would get off to a better start for Nemechek as he led the race from the pole and would lead the first four circuits around the 1.5 mile track. For much of the race, Nemechek would bounce around the top-10 and even dropped as far as 16th at one point in the race, but as the laps wound down, Nemechek would find himself right where he started the race, in first.
Taking the lead from Elliott Sadler at lap 231, Nemechek set his sights on his fourth career Cup Series win and a sweep of the Kansas weekend. As the laps wound down, Nemechek was conserving fuel to make sure he had enough to get across the line to win his second race in as many days, but the conservative driving by Nemechek in the No. 01 car would allow Ricky Rudd in the No. 21 car to catch up and set up the second dramatic finish of the weekend.
Just like in the Busch Series race the day before, the two leaders got side by side with two laps to go and it looked like Rudd might have the advantage as the cars took the white flag still side by side. However, Nemechek was able to clear Rudd to regain the top spot on the backstretch of the final lap and Rudd tried all he could, but didn’t have enough to get back by Nemechek for the win as Nemechek took the victory by .081 seconds over Rudd.
The weekend sweep would mark the last time that Nemechek would visit victory lane in either series as now he has his sights on helping his son progress his career up the NASCAR ranks.
“The sweep at Kansas, who would ever have figured? Man, I’m so happy. I tried to save gas there at the end and I had them tighten me up there on that last run, I was a little too free most of the runs before that. They got it tight and I was like ‘Man, I’m a little too tight,’ but I drove to the lead. They’re like ‘Save gas, save gas, save gas’, and there at the end I was trying to save gas and here come Ricky Rudd out of nowhere. I was like ‘Holy Moly’ and I had to get back on it and he got up beside me one time and I wasn’t going to let it happen, I came too close yesterday. This is just an incredible day. I just have to say thank you to all of the troops overseas, everyone. Awesome. This is a cool experience for myself representing the Army. Incredible. Thank you,” said Nemechek in victory lane.