Nemechek is as well grounded...
Nemechek is as well grounded as any competitor on the track-despite this mid-air moment at Infineon Raceway. Sam Sharpe
Joe Nemechek is focused. His eyes may be peering from his helmet, but what he sees is inside his head.
Nemechek is reviewing in his mind every lap he's just run during practice on the serpentine pavement that makes up the 2 miles of Infineon Raceway.
He is seemingly immune to the organized chaos that surrounds him in the Nextel Cup garage as he replays the laps in his mind, hitting the mental pause button to consider the interface between man and machine.
Nemechek has become an Army of One, focused on the mission.
"He goes over every turn, every gear change, every time he uses the brakes," says Mark Bieberich, car chief on the No. 01 Chevrolet Army Monte Carlo. By computing everything the car does over those twists and turns, climbs and dives, he can divine what he needs to do better to go faster.
"There aren't too many drivers I've worked with who are better at telling us what he needs," says Bieberich. "He's got the experience a lot of younger drivers lack."
Experience counts, but results count more. As the race to get into the Nextel Cup 10-race championship round hit its mid-point, Nemechek's '06 results were unimpressive.
"A year ago we were in the hunt," Nemechek says. "By this time in the season last year, we had been in position to win three or four races. At a lot of tracks, we had the car to beat. This year we are just snake bit."
Nemechek finished the '05 season 16th in points. It wasn't his best season-ending ranking, which was 15th at the end of 2000, but far from his worst.
Some of the season's disappointments have been the result of accidents.
The season of woe began at the Daytona 500. The race wasn't even a lap old when the front of Nemechek's car was aerodynamically rearranged by a piece of a tire flying off Jeff Green's car.
At age 43, Nemechek has no...
At age 43, Nemechek has no immediate plans to retire. Nigel Kinrade
"But some of it we've done to ourselves," Bieberich admits. "We just aren't catching on to the changes as fast as other teams."
Nemechek says it has been tough trying to keep up with the expanded mix of Goodyear tires. They change-either in composition or combination-at almost every race venue.
Goodyear used 15 combinations of tires in the 26 races leading up to the Chase for the Championship.
"If you are off just a little bit on your setup, you are off a whole bunch on the track," Nemechek says. "It doesn't take much in a series this competitive to make a huge difference."
Success in Nextel Cup is in those constantly evolving, minute details.