FORT WORTH, Tex. - It can be said, without equivocation, that Jack Sprague had been the best driver with the worst NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series record at Texas Motor Speedway. In six appearances, just about everything that could happen had ...
FORT WORTH, Tex. - It can be said, without equivocation, that Jack Sprague had been the best driver with the worst NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series record at Texas Motor Speedway.
In six appearances, just about everything that could happen had happened to Sprague: disqualification from the Bud Pole, engine failure to end a record, 54-race finishing streak and - in 2000 - a pair of accidents that doomed his bid for a third series championship.
So imagine that Sprague, after racing to a 4.669-second victory in Friday's O'Reilly 400K, was pretty pleased that he'd finally conquered the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Sprague, who started third in a lineup based on series owner points after rain washed out Thursday's time trials with 14 of 37 teams qualified, ran a methodical race. He chased down Travis Kvapil's CAT Rental Chevrolet, which hadn't pitted under the third and final caution, and took the lead for good on the 123rd of 167 laps.
Still concerned that his NetZero Platinum Chevrolet might run short of fuel, Sprague breathed a sigh of relief as he collected his 20th career victory and snapped a 22-race victory drought - longest in his six-plus seasons on tour. Sprague averaged a record 133.620 mph and won $62,235.
"Winning here at Texas is special," said Sprague, the only driver to win in six consecutive seasons on tour. "We kind of got off our game here for a while and we were terrible. This is the last place in the world under the circumstances we were dealt with - the way the Dodge rules are and the new carburetor - that I ever thought I'd win."
Sprague's victory ended Dodge's win streak at eight, the series record it shares with Chevrolet. The O'Reilly 400K also marked the first time teams had utilized a 390 cfm carburetor, a 43 percent reduction from previous events, that reduced horsepower by an estimated 70.
Friday's race was largely accident-free and produced the fewest cautions and caution laps - three and 21 - in series history at TMS. The lead was passed nine times by eight drivers, all but the final time during pit stops.
Defending NASCAR Winston West Series champion Brendan Gaughan, who finished third earlier this season at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., proved the run was no fluke as he drove the NAPA/Orleans Hotel & Casino Dodge to the runnerup position. David Starr, the competitor Gaughan replaced in the TKO Motorsports seat, finished third in the Chasco Contracting Chevrolet, a truck that carried Bryan Reffner and Jay Sauter to 2000 and 1999 fall race victories here.
Joe Ruttman took fourth with Raybestos Rookie Ricky Hendrick fifth. Dennis Setzer, Coy Gibbs and Randy Tolsma were the final competitors to complete the 167-lap, 250.5-mile distance. Carlos Contreras and Nathan Haseleu followed, one lap behind.
Scott Riggs saw his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point lead take a big hit, shrinking from 118 to 43 points over Ruttman following a spin on lap 30. Riggs continued after the Turn 2 incident that also collected Patrick Lawler and Rich Woodland but finished 26th.
Riggs, starting from the front row for the sixth time in nine events, headed the first 21 laps - pulling out nearly a third of a lap advantage until caution, at lap 21 for Chuck Hossfeld's Turn 2 accident, sent many of the front runners to pit road. The stop, and a subsequent pit visit three laps later to remove a spring rubber, was the turning point for Riggs, who'd completed every lap en route to eight top five finishes in 2001.
Attempting to rebound from 23rd at the restart, which Rick Crawford headed, Riggs motored up too quickly on Lance Hooper's Chevrolet. Riggs turned right, lost control and went into a slide. Lawler and Woodland, trailing, couldn't avoid Riggs' Team ASE Racing Dodge.
"I got up in the groove too high and got collected," said Riggs, who'd also spun out on a warm-up lap cleaning his tires. "I just tried too hard to get back to the front. I made a bad mistake and it's my fault. I hate it."
The lap 31 caution sent Crawford to the pits, giving Terry Cook's Ford the point when racing resumed after eight laps of cleanup. He led until pitting under green on lap 64, leaving Gaughan at the helm. Gaughan stayed out until lap 73, a run of 109.5 miles that showed another dimension of the impact the 390 carb would have on the race.
Ted Musgrave, then Ruttman and Sprague, shared the lead as the teams that pitted during the first caution made their green flag stops beginning at lap 84. The cycle had just been completed when debris in Turn 3 brought out the final yellow at lap 102.
Kvapil, who'd run at the tail of the top 10, chose track position over pit service and led Gaughan, Cook, Gibbs, Musgrave, Ruttman, Sprague, Hendrick, Setzer and Contreras when the green flew on lap 107. Sprague wasted no time stepping on the gas, tailing Ruttman up the order then going side-by-side with the veteran driver for second-place, which he took on lap 119. He then began his assault on the slower Kvapil, slipping low between turns three and four to measure the freshman competitor on lap 123.
Gaughan gave chase, holding off Musgrave's Dodge in the process, but was fading when the checkered flag ended the one hour 52 minute 29 seconds contest.
"In the end, we tried to stick with Jack but he worked traffic a little better," said Gaughan, whose next series start will come at Kansas Speedway on July 7. Late stops for fuel cost both Musgrave and Cook spots among the top 10. Starr was 2.3 seconds back in third with Ruttman nipping Hendrick for fourth-place by just a third of a second.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series takes a week off before heading to Memphis Motorsports Park for the July 23 Memphis 200.