Nemechek Back In Action

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Joe Nemechek’s been hurting the past few weeks.

An obvious statement, considering he’s been injured since a crash during a NASCAR Busch Series test session at Dover Downs International Speedway in early May. But that hasn’t been the main source of Nemechek’s pain lately.

The fact he hasn’t been able to drive a race car competitively in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since May 5 at Richmond International Raceway has been really eating at the driver of the No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet.

“If the enemy was trying to get secrets out of a race car driver, they wouldn’t need bamboo shoots under the fingernails or anything like that,” Nemechek said. “All they would have to do is let somebody else drive his car for a week or two, much less six weeks. That was pure torture, more than I thought I could stand sometimes.”

After watching three other drivers get behind the wheel of the No. 33 Chevy for the past five races, however, Nemechek has healed and will make his return this weekend at Daytona International Speedway in Saturday’s Pepsi 400.

The accident at Dover was the first time in his driving career Nemechek has been seriously injured in an accident. He broke his collarbone, in addition to a bone in his arm near the elbow – injuries that have prevented him from racing.

“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Nemechek said. “My body hurt. It hurt a lot at times. But watching that Oakwood Homes car going around the track without me driving it hurt a whole lot, too. I’m grateful to be here and to be able to even talk about it, and I guess I was pretty grateful to be able to watch on television or watch the car at the track. But it still hurt.”

Bobby Hamilton Jr., a NASCAR Busch Series regular, got some valuable Winston Cup experience by racing at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan in the No. 33 Chevrolet. Wally Dallenbach took a turn at the wheel at Pocono, and then Scott Pruett turned in a respectable 12th-place finish at Sears Point on June 24.

Nemechek said there might be a bright side to his being injured and the off time he experienced.

“In one aspect, it was good,” Nemechek said. “I got to spend more time with the kids than I would have gotten to otherwise. But it still wasn’t the same. Watching somebody else drive your car, that’s the worst torture you can put a driver through.”

His rehabilitation, he said, wasn’t easy, but Nemechek said he’s almost fully healthy again.

“I spent the first week laying around for the most part, just trying to get started on recovering. Then I hobbled around for a week or so. After that, I was able to start working with some weights, and that’s when I really started feeling like I was recovering.

“That’s when I started making some progress. That’s also when I started finding other things that I didn’t even know had been injured – some muscle stuff here and there, a rotator cuff on my elbow, stuff like that. I used the time after Sonoma (Sears Point) to start getting re-acquainted with the race car, just to see how things were again. I wanted to make sure, too, that everything on me was as good as I thought it was. I wanted to see where I stood on neck strength, and we did some test just so I would get some new miles in.

“I’m right on schedule to be 100 percent again, and feel like I’m fairly close to that now. I don’t think much about Dover, just think about getting in the race car again. My mind is set on Daytona and nowhere else. It’s been a rough few weeks, not just because of the injuries but because of how bad I wanted to drive that Oakwood Homes Chevrolet again.”

Dover looms large on the Winston Cup schedule for Nemechek. The Winston Cup Series returns to the “Monster Mile” on Sept. 23. But for now he’ll tackle Daytona, where he finished 11th in the Daytona 500 in February.

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