Upcoming stretch key for Nemechek

Scott Riggs is hoping an old friend can help take his Nextel Cup career to new heights.

Joe Nemechek hopes his racing luck is finally starting to turn after a third-place run Sunday at Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, Pa.), proof positive that not every strong run for the veteran has to go wrong at the last minute.

Scott Riggs Riggs

Joe Nemechek Nemechek

Together, they hope to show that MB2/MBV Motorsports has what it
takes to be a contender at NASCAR's highest level. Sure, the organization – which also fields a car for road race ace Boris Said on a part-time basis – isn't considered a powerhouse, but that doesn't mean it can't be competitive.

After all, the team leases engines from Hendrick Motorsports,
meaning Riggs and Nemechek have engines every bit as potent as those of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson inside their Chevrolets.

And Nemechek's win this past fall at Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kan.) meant the operation wasn't blanked in 2004, which left it ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing. MB2/MBV hasn't reached Victory Lane yet this year, but only Evernham Motorsports (with Kasey Kahne) and Childress (with Kevin Harvick) have broken the Roush Racing/Hendrick Motorsports stranglehold on Victory Lane through 14 races.

Not that Nemechek hasn't come close. He was a cut tire away from winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway (Harrisburg, N.C.) last month and finally posted his elusive first top-five at Pocono. And now he takes his U.S. Army-sponsored Monte Carlo to a track (Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.) where he was running in the top five last June before losing the engine with 27 laps remaining.

Nemechek believes the next six races will go a long way toward determining just how well his season plays out. After Michigan, the circuit heads to Sonoma, Calif.; Daytona, Fla.; Chicago; New Hampshire; and back to Pennsylvania's Pocono.

"Looking at the schedule and how we performed at the next six tracks last year, the Army team should be feeling pretty good right now," Nemechek says. "All of the finishes might not have been that good, but the performance was there at each event and only a mechanical problem halted our charge at some of the races. We have a pretty good book at each of those tracks. If we can run similar to the way we did last year at the next six races and get rid of the demons, we should be in good shape."

That, of course, is easier said than done. Luck hasn't exactly been his strong suit this year, probably the biggest reason he's sitting 20th in the point standings.

"We need to stay clean and get on a streak," Nemechek says. "If we can
do that, we'll be there. We know we have the talent to perform well; we just need a little luck to go along with our performance. We let a couple of wins get away from us this season. We need to close the deal."

Nemechek says his team just keeps trying to refine its game.

"The way the rules are, you can't ever give up, you have to keep on
working," Nemechek says. "It's from one end of the race car to the other. You've got to work on everything all the time to try to stay on top of what everybody's doing.

"Aerodynamics are a huge, huge issue, and I think our cars are pretty
good. It's hard to pass on the racetrack, so you've got to have good pit
crews and qualify well and have a lot of things going your way to have

Riggs, meanwhile, is preparing for his second race with Rodney Childers as his crew chief. That sounds as though it could present a learning curve, but that's not the case at all. Sure, Childers has to get used to calling all the shots in his first stint as a crew chief, but he and Riggs have known each other since 1998.

Back then, they were racing Late Model stock cars against each
other in the Carolinas. Childers raced in the Slim Jim All Pro
Series and Hooters Cup and made one Busch Series start, but eventually changed directions.

In 1993, he joined Jasper Motorsports, which merged with Penske
Racing South last season. This year, he joined MBV Motorsports as Riggs' car
chief. And with those two working so well together, Doug Randolph was promoted to overseeing the team's fledgling driver development program so Childers could get his shot.

"Rodney's definitely got what it takes to be a successful crew
chief," Riggs says. "The best part about his and my relationship is that he
knows exactly what I mean when I tell him how the car feels because he's been in the seat. He can relate to what I am saying and make the right adjustments.

"Bringing him on board at the beginning of the season as car
chief helped the team's performances, and I'm confident that with him moving to the crew chief role we'll continue to improve."

Riggs already has shown plenty of improvement from last year,
his first year in the Cup ranks. He finished 29th in points as a rookie,
with just one top-five and two top-10s. He sits 23rd in points heading to Michigan, with one top-five and three top-10s already.

And Riggs believes the best is yet to come.

"Luck definitely hasn't been on our side, but everybody has
those kind of things, everybody goes through it," Riggs says. "Hopefully
we're getting all of ours out of the way.

"I think we're all a lot more confident in what we're doing. I know I'm a lot more confident as a driver. I think the team is a lot better and stronger. I think we make a lot smarter decisions on the car and it's going to start to show here pretty soon."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.