KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The biggest gripe about NASCAR's new 10-man Chase for the Nextel Cup championship was that the drivers not in the title battle
would be ignored.
Nobody could ignore Joe Nemechek on Sunday after he held off Ricky Rudd to win the Banquet 400 and finish off a weekend sweep at Kansas Speedway.
"The guys in the championship chase have more to lose than we do,'' Nemechek said. "We're on the offense, not on defense.''
This one was almost as close as his half car-length victory over Greg Biffle in the Busch Series event Saturday, with Nemechek and Rudd racing
side-by-side and bumping once with a lap to go before Nemechek took control again and beat Rudd to the finish by 0.081 seconds -- just more than a car
Nemechek, who did a backward victory lap on the 1½-mile oval to honor the memory of his brother, John, killed in a truck race in Homestead, Fla., in
1997, was relieved to win after nearly getting too conservative at the end.
"There at the end I was trying to save gas and here comes Ricky Rudd out of nowhere,'' Nemechek said. "I was like, 'Holy Moley.' I had to get back on
it. He got beside me one time, but I wasn't going to let it happen.''
"The end off the race was pretty neat,'' said Rudd, who drove onto the apron and nearly spun out on the late restart before breaking out of the pack
to chase down Nemechek.
"I got hung up in traffic and Joe had a half-a-straightaway lead on us,'' Rudd added. "I caught him somehow and I got to his door, but my car was
slipping and I had to ease off so I didn't take us both out. Joe and I, neither one, needed that type of ending to a great day for both of us.''
Rudd raced to only his second top-10 finish of the year, both coming since being reunited with crew chief Michael "Fatback'' McSwain in August.
Nemechek was among a group of 10 drivers who stayed on track when cars ahead of them pitted during a caution period late in the race, moving from 14th
to fourth as Biffle and Jeremy Mayfield, who were 1-2 at the time, were among the leaders who did pit.
"I was getting really, really good gas mileage and we elected to stay out when those other guys pitted for a splash of gas,'' Nemechek said. "It
worked out just perfect for us.''
Another yellow flag on the ensuing restart left him in the same spot, but the veteran racer, who started from the pole for the second straight race,
charged to the front once the green flag waved for lap 218 of the 267-lap event.
He passed Rudd and Jamie McMurray and dueled with championship contender Elliott Sadler before grabbing the lead on lap 231, staying out front the
rest of the way for his fourth career victory and first since May 2003 at Richmond. It is the first time since the championship battle began last
month at New Hampshire that one of the title contenders has not won.
Biffle finished third Sunday, followed by Sadler, Mayfield and Kurt Busch, who came into the race with a 12-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the
Nextel Cup standings and finished Sunday leading Earnhardt, who finished ninth, by 29 points.
Mayfield led a race-high 72 laps and Biffle was next with 64. Biffle was particularly disappointed.
"Not very often do you get a race car that you can just go on all day long,'' Biffle said. "For something to happen and not win, it burns. It's acid
in your stomach. But those are the cards we were dealt today.''
Jeff Gordon, who finished 13th, is third, 79 points behind after four of 10 races in NASCAR's new championship format.
Busch got a little lucky Sunday, avoiding damage when he spun midway through the race. He came back to finish in the top six for the fourth straight
race, the only driver to accomplish that feat in every race since the 10-race playoff began. Earnhardt, coming off a victory in Talladega a week ago,
got his fourth straight top-10 finish.
"We avoided a big pitfall today,'' Busch said. "Our car was not very good when we were around other cars.''
With six races remaining, Sadler is fourth in the standings, trailing Busch by 143 points, followed by Mark Martin, who finished 20th Sunday and is
150 points behind.
Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, the defending Kansas City winner, both had another bad day in the championship. Each hit the wall in separate
accidents, with Johnson finishing 32nd and Newman 33rd. They are eighth and ninth in the standings, both more than 200 points behind.
Neither television broadcaster NBC nor radio's Motor Racing Network needed to use delays they announced earlier in the week in the aftermath of
Earnhardt using a vulgarity during a victory interview on live TV last weekend. NASCAR fined Earnhardt $10,000 and docked him 25 points, knocking him
out of first place in the standings.
NASCAR president warned the drivers during the prerace drivers' meeting that they are still responsible to watch their language and not count on the
delay to protect them. There were no reports of inappropriate language during the postrace interviews.