Nemechek Rockin At Rockingham

Joe Nemechek is putting together a hot streak at the right time of the season. No, he's not in a points championship chase, but as the veteran driver looks to lock up a return engagement in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet for car owner Rick Hendrick next year, he has turned in some solid runs the last few weeks.

Nemechek scored his best finish of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, leading 57 laps and finishing second in the rain-shortened NAPA 500.

Starting 36th in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet, Nemechek made an incredible run through the field, picking off 15 positions in the first 17 laps. When a caution flag was displayed on Lap 17, Peter Sospenzo, crew chief of the No. 25, called for a quick “gas-and-go” pit stop that gained the team an additional 18 spots on the race track to third overall.

Following that first caution, rain drops started falling on the 1.54-mile oval, delaying the race for 2 ½ hours before the weather subsided and NASCAR’s jet dryers assured a safe restart.

Nemechek was rarely out of the top three for the remainder of the event, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 35 (12 laps), again on Lap 140 (five laps) and for the last time on Lap 148 (40 laps). The No. 25 Chevy was so dialed-in that the team made just one change -- a slight air-pressure adjustment to the right-front tire -- throughout the entire race.

As Nemechek took the UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo from third to second-place on Lap 240, rain once again started falling on the Hampton, Ga., track. Running lap times faster than leader Kurt Busch, Team 25 made considerable headway, but ran out of time as another yellow flag was displayed on Lap 242. The field took six laps under caution before NASCAR ended the event due to inclement weather, 77 laps ahead of schedule.

The runner-up finish moved Nemechek (30 starts in 2002) up one place in the Winston Cup driver standings to 35th overall, 32 points behind 34th-place Steve Park (29 starts) and 134 back of Casey Atwood (33 starts) in 33rd.

Now Nemechek heads to North Carolina Speedway, where he is the defending winner of Sunday's Pop Secret 400.

"I'm really looking forward to going back to North Carolina Speedway. I won this race with an awesome car last fall and I think we'll have a shot at defending on Sunday. We tested Rockingham, burned up 15 sets of tires and learned a lot about the car. I was really happy -- we were awesome in race trim and ran really good times. It felt a lot like the car I won with last year."

"This team really seems to be coming together right now. We've cut up some new cars that fit my driving style and it's paying off. We've qualified well when the weather has cooperated; we've been great in practice and pretty strong on Sundays. Peter (Sospenzo, crew chief) has done a great job since joining this UAW-Delphi crew. It's been a pretty positive month."

Qualifying for the Pop Secret 400 is set for 3 p.m. (ET) Friday afternoon.

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