South Boston, VA September 21, 2002 - Mike Bliss won today's "Hardee's 250 With John Boy & Billy" NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Big Daddy South Boston Speedway. He took the lead on Lap 199 with a lap-long outside move around Coy Gibbs,...
South Boston, VA September 21, 2002 - Mike Bliss won today's "Hardee's 250 With John Boy & Billy" NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Big Daddy South Boston Speedway. He took the lead on Lap 199 with a lap-long outside move around Coy Gibbs, who had headed the field for the prior 53 laps. The inside line was the place to be for most of the day, but Bliss saw an opportunity and took it.
"Everybody was protecting the bottom," Bliss said, "and I was rolling really good through the middle of the corner. I just drove it in there and let off the brake a little bit, let it roll, and then picked the throttle up - just cracked it - and just rolled through the corner. I beat him to the point where he just had to give me room. Then you just nail it coming off, and try to beat him the same way getting into the next corner. It worked. Sometimes you have to be real patient doing that kind of move, and it will work for you."
Thanks to hard racing and NASCAR's prejudice against yellow flag finishes, today's 250-lap race stretched to 257 laps.
"With five to go," Bliss said, "I'm thinking 'who's going to spin?' We always have a green-white-checker in the Craftsman Truck Series, and sure enough there was a guy in the wall. I just had to protect the bottom of the racetrack. (On the final green) I put it in third and prayed like heck that that thing wouldn't get floored by it. I didn't even look in the mirror. I couldn't even tell you how far ahead we finished."
This is Bliss's twelfth career Craftsman Truck win, and his fifth of the year. He is now on top of the championship, 55 points ahead of Rick Crawford. His strategy for the rest of the season is to run hard for the wins.
"I just quit thinking about points," he said. "The guy that wins the most races from here on out is gonna win the championship."
Dennis Setzer followed Bliss across the line for second place. No driver is ever happy with less than first, but he respected Bliss's win and really enjoyed his day at South Boston.
"Bliss was very good," Setzer said. "He got out in clean air pretty early and saved his tires. That really won the race for him."
Setzer also made the outside line work for him when it counted. "You could get outside somebody," he said, "and stay there a few laps and hang them on a lapped truck. You could work that pretty good. I made a few passes coming up through there the same way. It's watching ahead, having a good spotter watch ahead for you, that gets you in position for some passes on the outside."
Traffic was tough all day, "...but that's great short track racing. Man, I think the people enjoy it, all the fans enjoy this type deal. Traffic is part of it."
Rick Crawford, protecting his current second position in the season standings, took third place.
"The Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Kellor Smith Ford F-150 did a good job today," Crawford said. "I'm proud of the team. You could have fun with this chassis, and the Ernie Eliott engine under the hood was flawless. You're going to take a beating on a short track, and you know it. We're in a points race. You have to take a calculated risk, and I think we did that today. I think I drove a smart race, and strategy had a lot to do with the outcome."
For the first half of the race, it looked like it was going to be pole sitter and defending champion Ted Musgrave's day. On the start, and on the next four restarts, Musgrave took easy command of the race, usually hounded by Dennis Setzer. Musgrave - plus Setzer and several other early front-runners - gave up the point during yellow flag pit stops on Lap 93. They continued to run strong, working their way toward the front. While Setzer succeeded, regaining second, Musgrave faded to a final 14th place.
"We're still trying to figure out what happened," Musgrave said. "With about 50 laps to go we just burned up the right rear tire. At South Boston you can't get your truck back because you're always turning in the circle and you're on the gas. It just went to hell on us more or less."
David Starr put in a great run with a disappointing ending. When the early leaders pitted on Lap 92, Starr stayed out, leading for the next 53 laps.
"I was out front," Starr said. "It felt good. The next thing I knew, my tires gave out and Leffler and Gibbs passed me like I stopped on dime."
Starr eventually finished seventh.
After Starr's problem, Gibbs led the next 53 laps, until Bliss made his race-winning bold move around the outside. Gibbs then fell victim to Setzer and Crawford, finally finishing fourth.
Today was quite a day for racers and race fans. South Boston Speedway is an immaculate 4/10-mile track in the heart of stock car country. Despite its polish and modern support facilities, it is a classic paved bullring. A stark contrast to places like the 1 1/2 mile "Charlotte clone" Texas Motor Speedway where the trucks ran a 305-kilometer (can you believe that - NASCAR kilometers!!) race last week. 250 laps today, a traditional hundred miler. The shortest track the trucks see all season. And, today, a track with one good groove and a second that could be forced if necessary. Ten yellows, slowing the pace for an event-record 83 laps. Numerous applications of the "Chromium horn."
There was more than a little bent and bruised sheet metal. More contact than the yellow flag count documents - trucks in a number of incidents made it to the pits without slowing the rest of the action. A yellow on Lap 74, credited only to Brian Sockwell's spin in Turn 3, was accompanied by Robert Pressley, Terry Cook and Adam Clarke doing a spectacular bump and grind (including taking a little air) on the backstretch. The three backstretch bumpers fell behind (Cook 58 laps back by the end) but were all classified as running and none charged with yellow.
And the drivers loved it. Brendan Gaughan, current Rookie-of-the-Year point leader and a former basketball player at Georgetown, was exhausted after the race. But you could not tell that from his comments.
"This was just good old-fashioned short track racing today here at South Boston Speedway," Gaughan said. "We had the fastest Dodge Ram out there, and I'm damn proud of the NAPA guys for that. I think we've solidified our program. We've shown that from short tracks to speedays we're a contender. I was proud to have the leading Dodge for a while, and we had some great racing out there.
"Dennis Setzer taught me the coolest, most clean, textbook pass you could have out there. I can't say enough about how much I think of Dennis Setzer. That's how a bump-and-run should be. I don't think it's a bad thing in racing - it's part of it. He gave me the best textbook, most awesome bump-and-run and it was cool. What happened on the last lap though, was very non-textbook. But hey, we had a great truck. We finished 11th."
Bump-and-run coach Setzer clearly liked the short track action, and thinks that is where it's at.
"This is a great place to race for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series," Setzer said. "I love the short tracks, and I think that's where most of the people in the United States want to see these things. I think they tune in on the TV and enjoy seeing the bump-and-run, fender-grabbing racing. And that's certainly what they have at these short tracks."
Winner Mike Bliss, whose four previous wins this year have been on superspeedways, agrees.
"I like these little places," he said. "We run so many big tracks - the mile and a halfs, the miles - it feels good to come back here. We ran some Flemingtons and Louisvilles - these little tracks. Sometimes it's nice to come back to these places where you grew up racing, and run races. I enjoy running here. It's tight, (there are) a lot of wrecks, (but) I enjoy running here."
The trucks move on to the Orleans 350 (kilometers again!) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (another big 1 1/2 mile tri-oval) in three weeks. It will be good - NASCAR truck races usually are. But keep your eyes open for a return to South Boston next year.