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Nemechek Nabs Top-10 Finish, Leads Hendrick at Vegas

 

LAS VEGAS (March 3, 2003) – Joe Nemechek earned his first top-10 of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season on Sunday, posting the best Hendrick Motorsports finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after bringing his No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet to the checkered flag in ninth overall.

Team 25 battled back from the 26th starting position, not to mention some close calls—including a brush with the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick—and jumped eight positions in the championship standings to 12th overall, just 132 points behind leader Michael Waltrip.

“It was a good day—a good day for our whole UAW-Delphi team,” said Nemechek, who tied his career-best finish at Las Vegas. “We got up there and we were contenders there for a while. Then, Kevin Harvick—on a restart—tore the left side of my car off. We pitted, just to not take a chance on cut left-side tires. Then, we had a piece of trash on the nose and overheated.

“We just overcame a lot of odds today and to end up ninth is good. I think we had a car that was capable of running up there in the top three, but we’ll take it. It will move us up in the points and we’re going to Atlanta. Hopefully, we’ll have a shot at winning that one.”

Driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson earned a top-10 finish at Las Vegas before a last-lap incident with Sterling Marlin sent him to 11th overall, killing an opportunity to move into the lead in driver points. Coming to the checkered flag off Turn 4, Johnson was racing for eighth-place when Marlin made contact, spinning the No. 48 Chevy.

“I saw the video on TV,” said Johnson, who started 10th. “I don’t really know what has happened at this point. I hope it wasn’t intentional, but I raced clean with everybody all day long and don’t put a tire mark on anyone and then I get turned coming to the checkers and lose two more spots.”

With two top-10 finishes in three events, the El Cajon, Calif., native is currently third in Winston Cup points, a mere 14 behind first and only three shy of second-place Matt Kenseth.

Two-time Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte nailed down his best finish of the 2003 season on Sunday, coming home in 16th-place behind the wheel of the No. 5 Kellogg’s / got milk? Chevrolet after starting 36th.

It was Labonte’s first top-20 finish of the year and vaulted him seven positions to 26th in the championship standings.

After starting on the outside pole, four-time champion Jeff Gordon finished a disappointing 37th in the No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo after being involved in a multi-car accident that eliminated four teams.

“We had a great race car,” Gordon said. “The guys were doing an awesome job. We had a problem in the pits and that put us way back. We were working our way back up to the front and took a two-tire stop there. We were going to fall back a little bit, but I still think we were going to be ahead of the game for that last pit stop.

“It’s unfortunate.”

Gordon slid seven spots to 20th in points, but remains just 159 markers out of first and only 52 from a place in the top-10.

The teams of Hendrick Motorsports will next travel south to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 on Sunday, March 9 for the fourth of 36 Winston Cup races in 2003. The event will be broadcast live on FOX and PRN Radio beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST.

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