Joe Nemechek took advantage of Ward Burton's mistake for an emotional victory Saturday in the season-ending Hotwheels.Com 300 Busch Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Burton was blackflagged for jumping a restart with just three laps remaining, giving the top spot to Nemechek, who easily held off series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. to grab the eighth victory of his Busch Series career and first since April 1998 in Talladega, Ala.
Nemechek, whose brother, John, died of injuries from a crash in the spring of 1997 during a truck race at this track, dedicated the victory to his memory, just as he did following his first Winston Cup victory earlier this season in Loudon, N.H.
"This was a very special win for me," Nemechek said. "It's the first time my mom and dad have been back since that accident and I just can't think of a better way to win."
Nemechek, who only led twice for nine laps, was able to pass Burton, who ignored the black flag and remained on the track to the end, on the final lap around the flat, 1 1/2-mile oval. NASCAR did not count Burton's last lap and, although he finished only a few car-lengths behind Nemechek in the battle of Chevrolets, Burton was scored 10th.
"I started a little early, and NASCAR thought it was way early," Burton said. "It probably appeared that way because the 87 (Nemechek) wasn't ready for the restart. It's just a referee call."
NASCAR said the drivers had been told during a pre-racing meeting at what point in the fourth turn they would be allowed to go back to full speed.
"They had red lines up there for the restart," Nemechek said. "I didn't know why Ward took off so soon.
"After he did take off, I thought Jimmy (Spencer) was going to get me. They just caught me sleeping."
But Nemechek, who had pitted for two tires with 15 laps to go, while Burton stayed on the track, said, "I was working on him pretty hard and I was going to get him even without that (black flag)."
Earnhardt, who wrapped up his second straight Busch Series title last Saturday with a runner-up finish in Phoenix, passed Spencer for second on the final lap at Homestead. Rookie Hank Parker Jr. finished fourth, followed by Jeff Green.
Matt Kenseth, who had battled Earnhardt all season for the championship, finished 38th after his car was damaged in a multi-car crash on the first lap. Green wound up second in the final standins by 40 points, 280 behind Earnhardt.
There were only two cautions through the first 185 laps of the 200-lap event.
Parker took over the lead on lap 159 when Earnhardt, who had built a lead of more than 8 seconds, had to pit for a flat right tire. His crew decided to let the first-year Busch Series driver try to stretch his final tank of gas to the finish.
The strategy was working until Randy LaJoie brought out another caution when he stalled on the track on lap 186. On the ensuing restart, on lap 192, there was a seven-car crash and NASCAR, after determining it could not get the track cleared before the scheduled finish, threw a red flag with seven laps to go.
After a 10-minute delay and three laps under caution, the green flag for the final and deciding restart.
Despite the big crashes, no injuries were reported.
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