By Lee Montgomery
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Joe Nemechek ranks among the top 15 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in career victories and poles. And he was the series champion in 1992.
Recently, though, Nemechek has become a victim of the money game in the sport. Without proper sponsorship, he has had to struggle to make races, let alone run the entire distance and compete for a top finish.
The past two weeks have been an excellent, if unfortunate, indicator of that. He finished third at Talladega on April 16 for his best finish in almost seven years in the series.
On April 23, Nemechek didn't even drive at Nashville despite being 10th in the points standings. Instead, he put a driver who brought sponsorship behind the wheel of his No. 87.
He's back in the driver's seat for Friday's Bubba Burger 250 at Richmond International Raceway, but the momentum is gone.
"For us, it's one week at a time," Nemechek said. "Right now, it's about trying to keep our business going. It's a hard deal. We've got to do whatever it takes to try to keep the funds coming in and keep the place running."
Nemechek has always owned his team, Nemco Motorsports, in the Nationwide Series. But finding enough money to run competitively has been difficult since he returned full time in 2009.
"We try to run however we can run," said Nemechek, who mostly avoids starting and parking in the Nationwide Series. "Some weeks, we have some dollars come in. Other weeks, there's nothing. A lot of weeks, we run on sticker tires and some weeks we run on scuffed tires that we get from the Cup teams."
That's what made Talladega's finish so refreshing. He ran with the leaders most of the day and had a legitimate shot to win. It was his best finish since winning at Kansas in 2004, and the outpouring of support from friends and fans made Nemechek feel good.
He said he had more than 50 texts and emails and 20 voice messages after the Talladega race.
"We have so many fans out there," Nemechek said. "It's kind of like the past. We used to dominate in the Nationwide Series. At that point, we had good money and the right sponsor dollars to do that. It's just frustrating right now not having that. It's amazing the highs and lows you go through."
So why do it? Because Nemechek loves the sport, plain and simple.
"That's what it's about," Nemechek said. "If I didn't, believe me, I wouldn't be dumping all my own money into it to keep it going. But hopefully that'll all pay off here soon."
What: Bubba Burger 250
Where: Richmond International Speedway
When: Friday, 7:45 p.m. Eastern
TV: Speed, 7 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: .750-mile oval
Distance: 250 laps/187.5 miles
Qualifying: Friday, 4:10 p.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Brad Keselowski
2010 polesitter: Kyle Busch
Points leaders: 1. Justin Allgaier, 264; 2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 264; 3. Jason Leffler, 262; 4. Trevor Bayne, 260; 5. Reed Sorenson, 260; 6. Elliott Sadler 259; 7. Aric Almirola, 257; 8. Brian Scott, 228; 9. Kenny Wallace, 216; 10. Michael Annett, 184.