Sprague shines at Darlington test

DARLINGTON, SC (November 16, 2000) - Sometimes, off-season testing is proves to be more work than a scheduled race event "We just didn't change the truck over, we changed trucks," said Jack Sprague after completing the first-ever...

DARLINGTON, SC (November 16, 2000) - Sometimes, off-season testing is proves to be more work than a scheduled race event "We just didn't change the truck over, we changed trucks," said Jack Sprague after completing the first-ever NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series test at Darlington Raceway Thursday. "We initially brought a truck to the test that I've never really preferred to run. It's a relatively new truck with not a whole lot of races on it - maybe five or six at the most. At the end of the first day of the test, Dennis (crew chief Dennis Connor) made the call to bring the truck that I ran at Texas and Fontana over here. From then on, the test started to go our way." Sprague's test outing at the famed "Too Tough To Tame" Darlington oval was not only his first in an NCTS mount, but was also his first with new sponsor NetZero on board. To get the most out of the sessions, Sprague's Hendrick Motorsports mates worked overtime to get his Chevrolet Silverado ready for the track. "The second truck we tested was in the body shop back in Concord, NC getting ready to have the new NetZero colors painted on it," said Sprague. "The guys got up at 4 a.m. Thursday, put the windows back in it and the suspension on it. They sent it down here to Darlington where we put the engine in along with the brakes, springs and shocks we were running on the other truck. It picked up nearly a half a second right away over what we had run before. The truck isn't exactly perfect and we are still fast, so I'm real pleased with the way things are going." More than 20 teams took advantage of the two-day open test in preparation for the division's first-ever visit to the 1.366-mile Darlington oval next May 12. After struggling on the first day, Sprague was unofficially second overall in the test with a lap of 30.40 seconds (161.763 miles per hour). All laps were hand timed. "I was fighting a loose condition all day yesterday, but this truck is awesome," said Sprague. "I'm to the wood in Turns 1-2. I'm lifting a tick going into the corner and then I can mat it all the way around the corner and never lift. Man, it's good. In Turns 3-4, I'm just a tick tight. We're trying to figure out if it's a chassis or body deal and we'll know that before we leave here. Yesterday, I was loose all the way around the track. Today, we don't have that problem." One problem Sprague also managed to avoid was getting a "Darlington Stripe." That wasn't true for several other drivers as they found the concrete barrier a formidable foe during the test. "I'm driving the truck hard, but I don't want to put the thing in the fence," said Sprague when asked if he had come close to wrecking in the test. "There's no sense giving the guys at the shop a lot of extra work. We have seven trucks and we need 16 because we have two teams this year. I'm not helping the team taking back something that's wadded up. I'm trying not to do that. When I get in the truck, I can't help myself and I try to get all I can get. In testing, you just don't take as many chances as you would when you are out there racing." Sprague may have had a slight advantage over his NCTS counterparts having previously competed at the Darlington track in a trio of NASCAR Busch Series events earlier in his career. "I raced here back in the early 1990's," Sprague stated. "In fact, the first time I was here, I qualified third in Frank Cicci's car and was running third with 15 laps to go when we broke the motor. The track isn't much different than when I was here before. They've paved it since then, but it's pretty worn out again. It's been so long since I was here in a Busch car, so it's hard to make comparisons to the truck. We're definitely running faster on the straights but slower in the corners. At this point, a race vehicle is a race vehicle for me. I'm just glad we're going to be running here next May." So, did Sprague find any hidden secrets about his #24 NetZero Chevrolet Silverado during this test? "You usually don't find anything too unusual at these tests," Sprague stated. "Once and awhile you do. A couple of years ago at St. Louis, we found out something big just by accident. In general, that doesn't happen. Here at Darlington, we learned quite a bit today by just comparing our results to what we did yesterday with the other truck." In addition to the Darlington test, Sprague and new Hendrick Motorsports teammate Ricky Hendrick will have a busy off season also testing at Las Vegas, NV, Daytona Beach, FL, South Boston, VA and Talladega, AL.. For Sprague, the tests will be an opportunity to focus on the upcoming 2001 campaign and put a disappointing 2000 NCTS season in his rearview mirror. "Last year wore on me pretty bad because we just aren't used to having that kind of trouble," said Sprague, who won three events and finished fifth in the points but had six DNF's last season. "We finished the season on a high note with a good, Top-5 finish at California. We ran good all year long, but for some reason had trouble getting to the finish. Testing is pretty laid back compared to the season. We'll test a little bit more this preseason because Ricky Hendrick will be my teammate next season. I'm really happy to try to help him out. He's a good racer and he keeps his nose clean. He's going to make it, he's really going to surprise some people next season." One thing that won't be a surprise is if Sprague and his red, white and blue NetZero Chevy wind up in Victory Lane at Darlington next May. "I think it will be the opposite of what everyone thinks," Sprague said of the inaugural Darlington race. "Everyone thinks it's going to be a wreckfest. I don't. When you have a place as slippery as this one is in the corners, everyone is sliding around. You have to slow down. You have to do that to stay under control. That kind of racing makes for a great race. I'm not saying there won't be wrecks, but it will be an awesome race. It's the real fast places like Texas where you have more wrecks. You're hauling the mail there all day long, you never slow down. At Darlington, you are going to have to slow down and I think that's going to make for a super race. "As a rule, this Hendrick Motorsports team seems to run well at tracks that get slippery as the race goes on," Sprague continued. "We have a great set-up for that kind of racetrack and Darlington is that kind of race track. It's been extremely slippery out there during the test. The tires give up in two or three laps because of the surface of the racetrack. This place is a blast. It's nice to have a track close to home. I think the NetZero Chevrolet Silverado will run good everywhere we race next season, but I really think it will run well here. I'd like nothing better than to win the first-ever truck race at Darlington. That would be something for everyone involved with our program."

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