LOUDON, NH (July 21, 2001) - This time, Jack Sprague and his NetZero Platinum Chevrolet were not going to be denied. After dominating several events this season only to have bad luck and mechanical gremlins have him come up short of ...
LOUDON, NH (July 21, 2001) - This time, Jack Sprague and his NetZero Platinum Chevrolet were not going to be denied.
After dominating several events this season only to have bad luck and mechanical gremlins have him come up short of Victory Lane, Sprague left nothing to chance in scoring a dominating win in the New England 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Sprague led all but 17 of the 200 circuits on the NHIS one-mile oval to score his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory of the season and the 21st win of his illustrious career.
"This doesn't make up for all the races we've given away, but it sure feels better than it did last week," said Sprague, who oddly enough finished last in this same event a year ago after being eliminated in a crash on Lap 2. "On one hand, I can't wait to go to the racetrack every week because I've had pretty good pieces. On the other hand, it's been hard going to the track because I've been hoping I could just finish. Today, my NetZero Platinum Chevrolet lasted all day. I even beat up the motor pretty good doing some burnouts after the race and the motor is still hitting on all eight cylinders."
The celebration burnouts capped a weekend of dominance for Sprague and his Hendrick Motorsports team. The 36-year-old Spring Lake, MI driver rolled to his fourth pole position in the last six NCTS races with a lap of 29.735 seconds (128.091 miles per hour) Friday. Over those past six events, Sprague has not qualified outside the Top-3 posting a 1.66 qualifying average. The pole was Sprague's fifth of the season equaling his career best of five during the 1997 season and jumped his NCTS record for top qualifying efforts to 18. For the year, Sprague has not qualified outside the Top-10 and has a 3.92 average through 14 series events.
Sprague was even more dominant at the drop of the green flag leading the first 160 laps. Included in the run at the front were two caution flag pit stops where his NetZero Platinum pit crew made sure Sprague stayed at the point.
"I really have to give it to my guys," said Sprague of his crew. "They are the best in this series. There isn't a crew that works harder or is better than they are."
When Sprague finally did relinquish the point, it was under green flag conditions when he pitted for right side tires and a splash of fuel. Back on the track in ninth place, Sprague quickly cycled back to the front by Lap 177 as the remainder of the field pitted for the final time in the race.
Given his recent string of bad luck in the late stages of races he's dominated, Sprague wasn't looking over his shoulder as he sprinted to the finish.
"Man, the last eight or nine race, this truck has dominated hard," said Sprague. "We just haven't been able to finish. Dennis (crew chief Dennis Connor) told me he had the problem figured out and it had nothing to do with anything the guys were doing. It was actually the hood of our truck and where the heat under it was going. I've trusted him for seven years and that's the reason we run the way we do. Of course, Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports do a great job. Dennis told me I was going to win and I believed him."
Sprague had one last bullet to dodge on his way to Victory Lane as a caution on Lap 188 bunched the field. That put the remaining seven trucks on the lead lap squarely on his back bumper for a nine-lap battle to the finish.
"I was still hitting on all eight, so I thought I was in pretty good shape," said Sprague. "I didn't want to see the caution. I was tighter than I had been all day on the last set of tires that I got. I didn't know how hard I could go or how fast I could go. I knew the 60 (second-place runner Travis Kvapil) had run good all day. When we took off, I just got up on the wheel and got away from him over the last couple of laps. I thought it was going to be tougher."
At the checkered flag, it was by .0932-seconds over Kvapil, Dennis Setzer, Ricky Hendrick and Ted Musgrave. Sprague completed the 200-mile distance in a race-record speed of 109.244 miles per hour, more than five miles per hour faster than the previous event mark set by Andy Houston in 1998. Sprague collected $57,260 for the victory, including a $10,000 bonus from series sponsor Craftsman for winning the event from the pole position.
More importantly, Sprague, the 1997 and 1999 NCTS season champion, moved to within just 11 points of series leader Scott Riggs. Sprague is third in the championship standings, eight markers behind runner-up Joe Ruttman.
"It's pretty amazing we're that close to the front considering all the bad luck we've had this season," Sprague stated. "We've just been fighting to get things turned around and gain in the points race. We were able to do that today and now it's a horse race down to the wire over the final 10 events. Our goal every season is to win the championship. If we can continue to run and finish like we did today, I like our chances of winning the championship a lot."
Next up for Sprague and his NetZero Platinum team will be the Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The event will take the green flag Friday, August 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. It will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast live by MRN Radio.