Sprague, Hornaday cap season with a classic By Brett Borden LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Nov. 8, 1998) In a crazy ending destined to go down as one of auto racing's most memorable moments, Ron Hornaday finished second in order to finish first. And now he...
Sprague, Hornaday cap season with a classic By Brett Borden
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Nov. 8, 1998) In a crazy ending destined to go down as one of auto racing's most memorable moments, Ron Hornaday finished second in order to finish first. And now he is celebrating his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship.
Hornaday entered Sunday's Sam's Town 250 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a 13-point advantage over Sprague in the NCTS standings. Roughly translated, that meant his margin of error (finishes behind Sprague) was two, unless Sprague won. The five bonus points Sprague would get for winning would mean that Hornaday would have to be runner-up if he was to win his second series championship in three years. Hoist another trophy, Ron. You had three points to spare.
"I don't know if I can put it into words," said an emotionally drained Hornaday after the race. "I never said it would be easy. I just said coming into this race my mind was focused. This is a great Chevrolet team, awesome, and (crew chief) Fred Graves and all these guys - they've just got so much faith in me and I've got so much faith in them. We came to win this thing and to come home second ... there's just so much emotion. Jack Sprague won this race. Unbelievable."
With a little over one lap to go, Sprague was in second place behind rookie Greg Biffle. The 1997 NCTS champion made his move under a waving white flag, taking the lead and putting the necessary cushion between himself and Hornaday for the title. But Hornaday weaved his way through traffic on the last lap, and Sprague was helpless to prevent his rival from winning the big prize.
Sprague won't go home empty-handed, though. His payday for his fifth victory of the season (second only to Hornaday's six) was a hefty $84,725. But the bigger prize got away, and he was understandably frustrated afterwards.
"All year in just two laps ... I did all I could do," he said. "Biffle moved over and slammed me and let Hornaday go. I don't think that was right. Nobody moved over for me and I wouldn't ask 'em to. I didn't think that was right."
For his part, Hornaday refused to take sides in the Sprague/Biffle dispute. He was either too focused or too excited at his fortune to recall the details.
"I can't tell you about anything because I don't remember anything," he said. "All I know is that Jack tried to get in front of that 50 truck (Biffle) and the 50 truck hit him and they both lost momentum. I about won the race! But you know, I could have gotten under Jack and taken his air off the spoiler and run into him but we needed this championship more than the win." So the win went to Sprague, who now has four months to think about three points that separated him from another title.
"We did all that we could do and that was win the race," said Sprague. "To lose the championship by three points, I don't know if it's a good way to end the season or not, but that's what we've got to deal with. So that's what we will deal with."
Almost forgotten due to the crazy finish was the first 160 or so laps. Most of those were dominated either by Biffle or by fellow Ford driver Mike Bliss. The two drivers, each sharing the reputation of being strong starters but forgettable finishers, lived up to their labels, though they both finished in the top six.
"We had a good truck today," said Biffle, who settled for fifth. "The guys did a great job. It was a great race. We won the rookie of the year deal, and we're happy. That's all we can do. Sprague got underneath me coming off of (turn) four. He had a clean shot, and then going down the front stretch he tried to run me down in the dust, for no reason. He had the position on me. That's the way it goes."
That last sentence could serve as the motto for Bliss' 1998 season. Bliss once again led the most laps in a race with the last one not being one of them. With 35 laps to go he saw Biffle pass by him, almost representing Bliss' entire year in one red-and-black blur.
"We just got loose, and Greg went around us," said Bliss. "Then I was just waiting to come in. We put (tires) on, and there was just no grip on the right side tires. We just kept sliding up. What happened was the left side tires didn't come up to temperature to where the truck would come in. The last two laps it just started to come in. We missed it that way.
"I'm disappointed. We came in again to put air in the tires to get them hotter faster, to get them up to temperature faster. If I could take it back I wouldn't have put tires on at all. I'd have put a little wedge in it and went back out. But hindsight is 20/20. It's disappointing because we had a good truck again today. A Ford should have won this race, but I guess Jack and Ron were just a little more hungry."
Each got a little something to eat. Hornaday said afterwards that the feeling of winning the championship was sweeter than it was the first time.
"Nothing compares to this," he said. "Nothing comes close."
The same could be said for the race, which should leave fans hungry for more next year.
Source: NASCAR Online