KANSAS CITY, KS (July 6, 2002) - Ted Musgrave rallied his ill-handling Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Ram to a fifth-place finish in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway Saturday.
"We struggled all day, but to come away fifth after all we went through is something to feel pretty good about," commented Musgrave following the 167-lap event. "About 30 laps into the race, my Mopar Dodge got so loose I didn't think I'd be able to hold on. I'm not sure what the problem was. The truck just kept darting all over the racetrack. We made about eight pit stops and it got a little better with every stop, but never really to the point where we could be a threat for the win."
In time trials on Friday, Musgrave toured the 1.5-mile Kansas City oval in 32.611 seconds (165.588 mph), being bested only by his Ultra Motorsports teammate Jason Leffler for the top qualifying spot.
At the drop of the green flag, Musgrave made an immediate charge for the front, taking the point from Leffler by the time the field completed the second lap. Musgrave paced the field for the next 10 circuits until yielding the top spot to eventual winner Mike Bliss.
By Lap 32, Musgrave's handling problems were in full force and he was steadily backing up on the leaderboard. When the second caution of the day waved on Lap 50, Musgrave took the hard left on to pit road and headed to the attention of the crew chief Gene Nead and his Team Mopar "Ultra Bad Boys" for service. In all, Musgrave would pit three times during the caution in an attempt to restore the handling on his No. 1 Dodge.
The Franklin, WI driver returned to the action 16th in the running order, but still couldn't get the Mopar Dodge to perform to his liking. When the yellow flag waved again on the 105th circuit, Musgrave again made three trips down pit road in attempt to remedy his ill-handling truck.
"At the rate we were running, we didn't have anything to lose by pitting a bunch of times under those cautions," explained Musgrave. "It was definitely the right thing to do because the Mopar Dodge progressively got better. I have to hand it to all the guys on the team because they never gave up. We fought tooth and nail for every spot we picked up." Despite the problems, Musgrave found himself still on the lead lap and eighth in the running order in the late stages of the event. Over the final 20 circuits, the veteran driver was able to move up three more spots on the racetrack to fifth when the checkered flag flew.
The solid effort earned Musgrave $13,500 in prize money and, more importantly, extended his NCTS points lead to 61 markers over Mike Bliss in the 2002 NCTS championship chase.
"That was the hardest fought fifth-place finish that I think I've ever been part of," said Musgrave, a nine-time Truck Series winner. "It wasn't a win, but we stepped out our points lead and that's what we needed. We're keeping the big picture in mind all season long. I've never won a championship and neither has my team owner Jim Smith, so that's our goal for 2002. We'll go back to the shop this week, try and figure out what the problem was and try and get our third win of the season next week at Kentucky."
The Kroger 225 at Kentucky Speedway will take the green flag Saturday, July 13 at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The 11th race of the 2002 NCTS tour will be telecast live on ESPN and broadcast on MRN radio nationwide.