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 yesterday after he held off Ricky Rudd to win the Banquet 400 and finish off a weekend sweep at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
"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 on 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 of a second -- about 11/4 car-lengths.
Nemechek, who did a backward victory lap on the 11/2-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 come 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 yesterday, 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 yesterday leading Earnhardt, who finished ninth, by 29 points.
* FORMULA ONE: In Suzuka, Japan, Michael Schumacher asserted his authority in Formula One again with his 13th victory of the season, but first since August.
The seven-time world champion captured the Japanese Grand Prix, which was run in sunshine after days of rain and a typhoon threat.
Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races before losing three straight. In his previous race, he finished 12th at the Chinese Grand Prix, his worst finish since 1999.
"I didn't think too much about what happened at the last Grand Prix," Schumacher said.