Darlington race notes

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Darlington 200 winner Bobby Hamilton terms Darlington Raceway the toughest track on any NASCAR circuit and, although he didn't have the finishing order in hand, Hamilton correctly guessed that it had been a veteran ...

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Darlington 200 winner Bobby Hamilton terms Darlington Raceway the toughest track on any NASCAR circuit and, although he didn't have the finishing order in hand, Hamilton correctly guessed that it had been a veteran competitor's kind of day.

Hamilton, runnerup finisher Ken Schrader and fifth-place Joe Ruttman entered the race with a combined 82 Darlington starts. Hamilton became the first competitor to lead NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series races at Darlington.

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It would be unfair, however, to say that Darlington's first-timers struck out. Series veterans Scott Riggs extended his top five finishing streak to six races and Rick Crawford backed up his top five run of the previous Sunday at Gateway International Raceway. Finally, Raybestos Rookie- of-the-Year contenders, led by sixth-place Travis Kvapil, picked up five of six spots from sixth through 11th.

Riggs, who struggled in Thursday's open test and tested Darlington's walls, was particularly pleased with his rebound. "We brought another truck back and, right off the trailer, we were better," he said. "I slowly got my confidence back and we were able to keep it up all day. We raced the track today."

Riggs now has held the NCTS point lead after five consecutive races, mirroring the early-2000 performance of Mike Wallace, the veteran he replaced on the Ultra Motorsports team.

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Only once previously, at Richmond International Raceway, have NASCAR Winston Cup Series competitors finished one-two in a NCTS event. That was in September 1995 when Terry Labonte and Geoffrey Bodine crossed the stripe in a near-photo finish .

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Two racing organizations have combined to win all six events on the tour in 2001. Bobby Hamilton Racing (Hamilton and Ruttman) has two victories. Ultra Motorsports counts four by Riggs and Ted Musgrave.

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Saturday's race marked only the fourth time in NCTS history that an event has finished under caution and short of its scheduled distance. The first weather-abbreviated race came in 1996 at Nazareth Speedway while the most recent, in August 1999, occurred at Richmond.

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Jack Sprague had gone more than two years and 52 races since winning his last Bud Pole (March 1999, Phoenix International Raceway). He picked up No. 14 overall and 13th on a superspeedway, giving crew chief Dennis Connor a trifecta of sorts at Darlington. Connor, who won the Southern 500 with the late Tim Richmond, previously counted a NWCS pole with Terry Labonte and NBS pole with Randy LaJoie.

Chevrolet's last pole came in the next-to-final race of 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway. Although the truck maker leads in all-time NCTS poles - 62 to Ford's 51 - a Silverado has sat on the pole just twice in the last 18 series events.

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Terry Cook received a special award from Ford Motor Co. as the 11th series driver to start 100 races on the series. A huge clap of thunder punctuated Robert Brooks' presentation causing those present on the pre-race stage to cast nervous glances at Cook's bronze-cast eagle trophy.

Cook needs only to start Sunday's Jelly Belly 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway to become the series' 18th competitor to win a career $1 million. His seventh-place run - and seventh consecutive top 10 since joining the K Automotive Ford team - was one spot shy of reaching the plateau at Darlington.

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NASCAR officials, acknowledging tire wear, allowed teams to change all four tires under caution during the Darlington 200. A rule allowing a maximum of two tires to be changed under any single yellow flag period, was mandated beginning in July 1998 and is expected to remain in effect.

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Morgan Shepherds 21st place finish (in a truck numbered 21) marked the North Carolina veteran's 50th NASCAR start at Darlington Raceway.

-NASCAR

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Terry Labonte , Geoffrey Bodine , Ken Schrader , Mike Wallace , Jack Sprague , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Joe Ruttman , Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond , Travis Kvapil