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CICERO, Ill. - It's been a long, tough road but Rick Carelli - critically injured in a Memphis accident a month after winning his last NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race - appears to be back. Carelli, a gritty veteran who's competed on...

CICERO, Ill. - It's been a long, tough road but Rick Carelli - critically injured in a Memphis accident a month after winning his last NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race - appears to be back. Carelli, a gritty veteran who's competed on the series since its first race, finished fifth in Sunday's Sears Craftsman 150. The run, from a No. 7 starting spot, broke a 21-race streak in which Carelli had failed to log a top- five finish. The last time it happed was in April 1999 when the 44-year-old Colorado resident won at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. Carelli wasn't the only one to breathe a sigh of relief. So did team owner Dale Phelon, who'd seen his Carlin Burners Fords fail to finish eight times in the season's first 20 races. Phelon Motorsports' last top-five? At Miami-Homestead Speedway in last season's opening event. ¯ Although pit stops shook up the running order several times, initial track position apparently meant a lot. Seven of the top-10 qualifiers finished among the top-10 including four of the top-five. The third-starting Kurt Busch was the obvious odd-man out - dropping a pair of laps after cutting a tire and running afoul of pit road rules. "I think we had a truck that could have won the race or at least finished in the top-three," said Busch. ¯ Scott Pruett was supposed to drive a Kenmore-sponsored Ford in the Sears Craftsman 175 but the NASCAR Winston Cup Series rookie opted to give qualifier Anthony Lazzaro the seat, complaining of soreness from a late-race accident that left Pruett 38th in Saturday night's goracing.com 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Lazzaro drove into the top-10 early but spun in fluid on lap 156 to finish 22nd. "I really didn't kick him (Pruett) in the shins like I alluded to yesterday," joked Lazzaro. ¯ Bob Vila, national spokesman for Craftsman Tools, was Grand Marshal for the race. A bagpipe band headed the parade of drivers who went to the grid aboard Ford F-150 pickup trucks. ¯ Chicago Motor Speedway's long straightaways and tight turns gave teams fits on Friday's test day and, to save engines and drive trains, virtually all elected to change transmission ratios so that their drivers could shift gears. Without the changes, the trucks were on the rev limiter at the flagstand. ¯ Joe Ruttman's eighth Bud Pole gave Dodge a personal best qualifying record of 11 fast times on the season. The truck maker rang up 10 in 1999. Ruttman's victory moved Dodge to No. 2 in series manufacturer standings ahead of four-time champion Chevrolet. Ford is nearing its second title. Chevrolet has failed to win in 10 consecutive races to match its all-time losing streak of 1999. Bobby Hamilton Racing, meanwhile, scored Dodge's 700th manufacturer's point. ¯ K Automotive Performance, which has fielded Mopar-sponsored Dodge Rams over the past four campaigns, was notified Saturday that DaimlerChrysler would not renew its agreement for the 2001 season. Dodge Program Manager Ray Richards said, "It simply was a business decision based on a change of strategy within this company." Richards said an as yet unnamed team will field a pair of Dodges on the tour next season - one of which will include the current K Automotive tandem of driver Dennis Setzer and crew chief Howard Comstock who have combined for four victories in 1999-2000. The team has won once this year, at Nazareth Speedway in July. K Automotive owner Kay Keselowski indicated her team expects to remain on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2001 with Dodges and seeks to replace the Mopar sponsorship. The Keselowski family has campaigned Chrysler products for three decades on the NCTS, NASCAR Winston Cup Series and the ARCA BONDO Mar-Hyde trail. ¯ Elliott Sadler is the latest NASCAR Winston Cup Series competitor slated to compete in the Sept. 7 Kroger 200 at Richmond International Raceway. Sadler, a native Virginian, will drive the Long Brothers Racing Ford that most recently finished third at Nashville Speedway USA. Martinsville winner Bobby Hamilton and Ken Schrader also have filed entries for the race.

Owen Kearns

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , Scott Pruett , Dennis Setzer , Anthony Lazzaro , Joe Ruttman , Rick Carelli , Dale Phelon , Elliott Sadler
Teams Carlin