KANSAS CITY, Kan. - How far Ricky Hendrick goes in the NASCAR universe is a matter of speculation but few if any questioned his ability to win in his Raybestos Rookie campaign on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. And win he did Saturday,...
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - How far Ricky Hendrick goes in the NASCAR universe is a matter of speculation but few if any questioned his ability to win in his Raybestos Rookie campaign on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
And win he did Saturday, before a sun-baked Kansas Speedway crowd estimated at of more than 80,000 in the season's highest-profile event this side of the Daytona International Speedway opener.
Hendrick, son of multiple NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship owner Rick Hendrick, became the tour's youngest winner as he led the final 32 laps around the 1.5-mile superspeedway to capture the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250. His GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet Silverado carried a 2.841- second advantage over veteran Ted Musgrave at the checkered flag.
At 21 years three months five days, Hendrick erased the series' age record set by Kurt Busch who was age 21 years 10 months 28 days when he won at The Milwaukee Mile on July 1, 2000.
Hendrick, who led three times in his Chevrolet Silverado truck, started from the outside front row. He averaged 125.094 mph for the 250.5-mile distance, winning $40,855 from awards of more than $486,000. He is the year's seventh different and third first-time winner.
"This was big, real big," said an excited Hendrick. "This is a dream *come true; this is awesome. This is probably the coolest thing that's happened to me in my life as something (I've done) for myself."
Among Hendrick's many well wishers was former NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion and fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon who extended his congratulations via cellular phone from Daytona International Speedway where he was preparing for Saturday evening's Pepsi 400.
"Jeff's been a real inspiration," noted Hendrick whose only complaint - predictably - was the heat. "My behind and my (throttle) foot were on fire."
The elder Hendrick joined his son in victory circle and later observed, "We've had a lot of Winston Cup and Craftsman Truck wins. Wins are nice but when you see your son do something, it's special," he commented.
Musgrave, driving the Mopar Performance Dodge Ram, fought engine problems -- a vapor lock -- much of the afternoon but still came within two dozen truck lengths of claiming his fifth victory in the year's 12 races. Bud Pole starter Dennis Setzer finished third in his ACXIOM/Computer Associates Chevrolet, followed by rookies Jon Wood in the Eldon Ford and Billy Bigley in the Spears Manufacturing Chevy.
Wood and Bigley, who were among eight drivers who exchanged the lead 14 times on a 104- degree afternoon where track temperatures reached 145 degrees, posted career best finishes in their short series tenure.
Travis Kvapil, the sixth-place finisher, was the only other competitor to complete 167 laps. Scott Riggs, Rick Crawford and Coy Gibbs were scored with 166 laps while 10th-place Nathan Haseleu was two laps off the pace.
Riggs, who'd led the championship standings after 10 of the season's first 11 races before falling to second-place a week earlier in Milwaukee, returned to the top position. He heads previous leader Joe Ruttman by a 1,872 to 1,823 margin after alternator trouble sidelined Ruttman's DANA Corporation Dodge.
Only 21 of 36 starters were running at the finish, most knocked out by engine trouble. Minor accidents eliminated Brendan Gaughan, Brian Sockwell and Trent Owens.
The race got off to a rocky start with 13 of the first 24 laps being run under caution. The yellow flag, however, waved just twice more with five caution periods consuming a total of 22 laps.
Hendrick, who didn't lead until 79th lap, benefited from more hard luck that befell his teammate Jack Sprague. Sprague, who led twice for 80 laps, owned the dominant truck until his final pit stop on the 130th lap.
His speedy Chevrolet suddenly slowed, belching smoke and - six laps later - rolled silently into the garage with a blown engine.
"It just seems like we can't get to the end of these things," complained Sprague, leader of the most laps in five of the past six races. "I just get paid to drive the truck. I don't get paid to build the motors."
Most of the early lead changes came on the first of two rounds of green flag stops with Wood and Brendan Gaughan, who'd pitted out of sequence during the race's second and third cautions. Wood, victim of a Turn 2 spin after being tagged by Jason Small, actually gained in the mishap - able to mount four new Goodyears and inherit excellent track position as the leaders stopped.
Gaughan, leader of three of the four races he's entered in 2001, blamed himself for the backstretch accident that eliminated the NAPA/Orleans Hotel & Casino Dodge shortly after his tire stop.
A final round of green flag pit stops saw the lead pass among Musgrave, Setzer and Bigley. Hendrick gained the lead for the final time on lap 144 when Bigley headed down pit road.
Hendrick led by as much as five seconds before Musgrave began carving away the advantage.
"He's proved he can win," said former NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Musgrave of Hendrick.