HAMPTON, Ga. - Of all the cars that finished on the lead lap during Saturday's Aaron's 312 - and there weren't that many - only one didn't have a fender caved in or tire marks etched into the doors.
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo of Joe Nemechek finished the race with no battle scars, and that helped him finish the day in Victory Lane.
A new tire from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. had nearly every car in the NASCAR Busch Series event sliding closer and closer to the outside retaining wall. For many, it was too close.
Second-place Greg Biffle, third-place Michael Waltrip and fifth-place Todd Bodine all flattened the right side of their race cars in the final 75 miles. While everyone was fighting to keep their cars from drifting into the outside wall, Nemechek was busy pulling away to a half-mile victory worth $43,550.
"We didn't hit the wall; we didn't wind up in the hospital, so it was a good day," Nemechek said. "Goodyear has a new tire and it took a while to get used to them."
Jeff Green finished fourth, and that allowed him to take control of the series points lead. His yellow Ford, however, had bounced off another car during the race inside of the outside wall.
Jeff Purvis wound up sixth, followed by Jason Keller in seventh, Kevin Harvick in eighth, Jimmie Johnson in ninth and Tony Raines in 10th. Keller, Harvick and Johnson all were one lap behind on the 1.54-mile raceway, while Raines was two laps in arrears.
Only 29 of the 43 cars that started the race were running at the end. The rest were parked in the garage, each a victim of a crash or a brush with the wall.
"I could go high or low or wherever the car needed to go," Nemechek said. "There were a couple of times I thought I was going to hit the wall, but I didn't. You have to be careful. I was lucky."
The Busch Series moves to the 1.366-mile Darlington (S.C.) Raceway next week.
HAPPY HOUR (PLUS 30 MINUTES):
Jerry Nadeau, who dominated the season-finale in November at Atlanta Motor Speedway, posted the fastest lap Saturday in the final 90-minute practice session for today's Cracker Barrel 500.
His Chevrolet Monte Carlo was clocked at 187.101 mph.
After qualifying 13th for today's race, his Hendrick Motorsports team changed the engine, all four shock absorbers, four springs and other key suspension parts to make the car more capable of surviving 500 miles. The difference between Dale Jarrett's pole position speed of 192.748 mph and Nadeau's race-ready speed of 187.101 was 5.647 mph.
Sterling Marlin, who was 12th in qualifying Friday, had the second-fastest speed in the final session, commonly known as "Happy Hour," at 186.642 mph.
Johnny Benson was third-quickest at 185.828 mph, while outside pole winner Jeff Gordon was fourth at 185.778.
Jarrett was seventh-quickest at 184.192.
CHECKING OUT THE HANS:
Elton Sawyer gave the greatest testament to the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device Saturday during the Aaron's 312 Busch Series race when he was able to talk about his vicious crash with Tim Sauter.
Marty Houston lost control in the second turn and collided into Sauter, whose car caromed off the outside wall and into Sawyer's path. Sawyer hit Sauter behind the driver's door at nearly 180 mph.
"I'm a little sore in my chest area, but if I didn't have that device, my head would have been holding the steering wheel," Sawyer said. "That saved me from serious injury today."
The impact was so severe, Sauter's helmet split. He, however, also walked away.
Darrell Waltrip, the third-winningest driver in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history who now works as a commentator for FOX Sports, tried on the HANS device Saturday morning.
"(I wanted) to see firsthand what the HANS device felt like while sitting behind the wheel," he said.
He attached the neck collar to his helmet, then crawled behind the wheel of brother Michael Waltrip's Chevrolet to see how much the device limited his mobility.
The collar is designed to prevent whiplash-like neck injuries that have been linked to most of the recent deaths on the stock car circuit.
SHAWNA ROBINSON GETS A RIDE:
Already a full time driver on the ARCA/ReMax Series, Shawna Robinson will drive Michael Waltrip's Busch Series car at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Nashville (Tenn.) Speedway later this year.
Waltrip is a full-time driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc. on the Winston Cup Series, but he dabbles in the junior circuit as a car owner.
"We picked three tracks that we thought Shawna was used to," Waltrip said. "We are working to get her accustomed to the setups. This process is starting our team's development for the 2002 season."
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