Front Row Joe Does It Again
April 19, 2001 | 5:00 P.M. EST
But that’s not the case at Talladega Superspeedway, where 43-car drafts are the order of business at the 2.66-mile track.
If you don’t believe that, tune in to watch the Subway 300 Busch Series event on Saturday afternoon and you’ll get a clearer of a picture.
In qualifying Thursday afternoon, it was a familiar face enjoying the spotlight as Joe Nemechek won his fourth pole in the past six Busch races at Talladega. Nemechek’s speed was 189.729 mph, topping his employee, teammate and two-time series champion Randy LaJoie who qualified second.
“It was a good lap for us,” Nemechek said. “I figured Randy would be a little faster than what he ran, they might have left something on the table. We did a lot of work over the winter and did a lot of testing. Before they made the rules on (limiting) testing, we’d come here and test, I bet we ran over 4,000 miles. Back then, we were chasing the others and we were determined we were going to get as fast as the other guys.”
Rounding out the Top 10 behind Nemechek and LaJoie were Jimmy Spencer, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Purvis, Mike Skinner, Tim Sauter, Todd Bodine, Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Scott Wimmer.
As far as having a teammate, you sure don’t have to tell Nemechek about the importance of them.
“It’s good to have someone that can help you, but when it comes down to it, everybody is out there racing for themselves,” Nemechek said. “We tried to help Randy win at Daytona and I was pushing him, but it didn’t work out like that. It’s tough because you can try to help somebody out and you get hung out in the process.”
LaJoie admits it wouldn’t surprise him in the least if the final lap of Saturday’s race doesn’t boil down to about the same thing as Daytona, when he won the Busch Series season-opener.
“I was just holding the throttle down,” LaJoie said of his qualifying lap. “This is fun as long as you’re in front of everybody else. If you can hold the throttle down and keep everybody behind you at a track like this, you’re going to be doing great. As long as the other guys are behind me, I don’t care who I’m racing. Usually when you’re in traffic here, some of the veteran drivers can play with their air a little bit better than some of the others. I hope me and Joe can pull away from them and run 1-2 all day.”
While not Busch Series teammates, another pair worth watching is Spencer and Bodine, teammates in Winston Cup competition for team owner Travis Carter.
“There’s no doubt we can be a factor in the race because this team has run very well in the past three races, but we’ve had a lot of little things happen to us,” Spencer said. “Hopefully nothing will happen to us on Saturday and we can contend for the victory. I know Nemechek and LaJoie are going to be tough, and there will be a lot of cars running good. I love these kinds of tracks and it means a lot to me to be racing here.”
Bodine agrees that at Talladega, with notoriously wild racing, having a teammate doesn’t hurt a thing.
“We’re happy with that lap,” Bodine said. “This is the same car I ran at Daytona that got crashed, we just put a new body on it and it still runs pretty good. Here at Talladega, you want to start as close to the front as you can because you can really get shuffled to the back, but then again I started 28th at Daytona and within seven laps I was running second. Saturday will be like any restrictor-plate race, you’re going to have the big wreck.
“It’s just a matter of where you are in relation to when it happens. You’re either in front of it or behind, or even worse you could be in it, that’s just something you unfortunately have to live with in restrictor-plate racing. Heck, I was running second at Daytona and got spun out. So it’s a matter of a lot of luck.”
And having luck at Talladega is a very valuable commodity.