RICHMOND, Va. "Racing at any level can be fun " if you take points and championships out of the equation, which Kevin Harvick did Thursday night at Richmond International Raceway. Harvick, absent from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since ...
RICHMOND, Va. "Racing at any level can be fun " if you take points and championships out of the equation, which Kevin Harvick did Thursday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Harvick, absent from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since the conclusion of the 1999 season, tossed an entire arsenal at Jack Sprague, only to fall a half truck length short of victory in the Kroger 200. The win would have made Harvick just the second competitor - the first is Terry Labonte - to win on the NCTS, NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch series in the same season.
Making his first start in a Chevrolet owned by Rick Carelli (but crewed by his Richard Childress Racing NBS unit headed by Todd Berrier), Harvick fought his way past Sprague to lead the 195th lap. Sprague, then Ted Musgrave, then Sprague again paced the next three laps before Harvick got a final shot on the 200th and concluding serial.
A bunch of paint got traded and some sheet metal was bent as neither driver gave an inch. Sprague, thundering off Turn 4 in the preferred, high groove, held on for his second Richmond triumph.
A smiling Harvick admitted he easily could have derailed Sprague's fourth victory of 2001. "I could have turned up (in Turn 4) and dumped him,"Harvick said with candor. "But Jack's running for a championship. He was doing everything he had to do to win.
"This is the most fun I've had all year," added the winner of two NWCS races and runaway leader of the NBS championship.
Harvick, who last led a NCTS race in August 1999 at Indianapolis Raceway Park, has finished second four times. That's the most runnerup finishes without a victory on the series. He previously shared that distinction with Geoffrey Bodine who, ironically, finished second to Labonte at Richmond in 1995.
Carelli came within feet of becoming the first to win at Richmond as driver and owner. The 2000 winner, returning to the series for the first time since April, had an off-night in the Petty Brothers Racing Dodge, dropping out with 75 laps completed after sliding into the Turn 2 wall.
Sprague erased Mike Skinner's 1996 record for miles led in a season as he paced 147 of 150 miles of the Kroger 200. Skinner led ,1134.64 miles during a 24-race season. Sprague's total is 1,203.02 through the first 19 events of 2001. Sprague now has led the most laps eight times this season.
When Sprague took the lead on lap 2, he headed his 1,000th lap of 2001. Sprague's 23rd career victory leaves him two wins shy of Ron Hornaday's NCTS record.
Sprague came from the outside front row, alongside Bud Pole winner Dennis Setzer, to win the Kroger 200. That's been the most productive starting position in 2001, having rocketed eight drivers to victory circle.
Setzer settled for third-place - with a huge charge over the final laps - but continued a six-race victory drought for Richmond International Raceway pole winners. Only Labonte has won from No. 1.
With five races remaining of a slate of 24, Sprague's 27 point lead over Joe Ruttman is the second closest in series history. Sprague headed Hornaday by five in 1998; however, the latter driver came back to win his second title by just three.
One hundred fifty three points cover the current top six battlers. That's closer than any previous top five after 19 events. Meanwhile, the championship lead has shifted for the fifth time in five races, matching the record for consecutive changes established in 1998. Sprague's secret: bonus points, offsetting four finishes of 20th or worse. He's scored 115 of them, 75 more than Ruttman.
Ruttman's ninth-place finish boosted him past $400,000 for the fourth time in his seven seasons on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Dodge will clinch the 2001 NCTS manufacturer championship with a victory in any of the five remaining events.
The Turn 2 wall claimed several contenders, including second-running Scott Riggs and Travis Kvapil - the latter moving from 22nd to third-place before a right front tire problem on the 183rd lap relegated the CAT Rental Store Chevrolet to 11th.
Coupled with Ricky Hendrick's eighth-place effort, the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year race is a literal dead heat with a single point - 153 to 152 - separating Kvapil and Hendrick. Hendrick, who failed to qualify for the race in 2000 and admittedly struggled Thursday, is happy to be heading back to a superspeedway next week at Fort Worth. "This is a tough track for rookies,"he said.
Five NASCAR Winston Cup Series competitors fielded entries at Richmond. Stacy Compton (sixth) and Bobby Hamilton (seventh) and joined Harvick among the top 10.
The Kroger 200 was supposed to be Harvick's only start of the year but he said the Twizzler/PayDay/Sonic-sponsored truck may go to Phoenix International Raceway in late October when that track hosts a tripleheader show.
Virginia fans will see the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for an unprecedented third time later this month. South Boston Speedway hosts an inaugural race of 250 laps on Friday, Sept. 28. Setzer and Jimmy Hensley are former NASCAR Busch Series winners at the 0.333-mile venue.