HOMESTEAD, FL (November 17, 2002) - Jack Sprague's final ride in the No. 24 NetZero Chevrolet ended on a good note Saturday after finishing 11th in the Ford 300 NASCAR Busch Series race at Homestead Miami Speedway. It was Sprague's last time behind the wheel as a driver for Hendrick Motorsports before moving up to the Winston Cup ranks in 2003.
"We came to Homestead with the feeling we were going to have a good race car and we did," said Sprague. "It's tough when races come down to racing on fuel mileage because everything else seems to go out the window. Some teams can go longer than others and we weren't looking to take any chances. We took four tires on that last stop when a lot of guys took only two. Even if we had topped off, we still would have had to come back in late in the race. We really just needed a caution and didn't get it. Still, it was a good day for us. We needed to end the season on a good note and I think we did that."
Sprague started his final 200-lap event from the 15th spot after his red, black and silver NetZero Chevy turned a 27.473 second lap, (131.038 mph) in qualifying. The No. 24 car began the event tight in the corners and loose coming off, which made it difficult for Sprague to gain any ground. He fell as far back as 19th when the caution came out on lap 21. Sprague desperately needed adjustments and came in to the pits. Sprague took on four fresh tires, fuel and a had a rubber pulled from the left rear tire in 16.26 seconds.
The NetZero Chevy was 25th in the running order on the restart. It took a number of green flag laps for the car to develop into Sprague's liking and by lap 51, the Spring Lake, MI native had charged into the 13th spot. Sprague, while running in the 11th position came in for fresh tires and fuel on lap 88. Sprague managed to work his way into the top 10 before making his second green flag stop of the day on lap 112. Again, only tires and fuel was the course of action. A short caution came due to rain a few laps later, but still too early for Sprague to take on fuel and make it the rest of the way.
Sprague was in the 10th position when the race resumed for the last time. Digging hard, the veteran driver made his way into fourth, but had to pit in order to finish the race and not run out of gas. With 13 laps remaining, Sprague rolled into his pit box for a three-second splash-and-go. Sprague's 11th-place effort was just what he needed to keep him in the fifth spot in the championship standings and a place on stage at the banquet next weekend.
"It's pretty amazing how the year ended up," Sprague said. "We led the points race for a long time, but struggled more than we ever imagined towards the end. The team fought back with everything they had, but so many little things kept us from gaining on the points and we fell back to fifth. Fifth is still a great effort considering it was our first year in the series, but you still wonder if things might have played out differently without a few of those little things."