DARLINGTON, S.C. - The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' inaugural trip Saturday to historic Darlington Raceway will be remembered for what was rather than what might have been. Inclement weather contributed to a pair of delays -the last for more...
DARLINGTON, S.C. - The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' inaugural trip Saturday to historic Darlington Raceway will be remembered for what was rather than what might have been.
Inclement weather contributed to a pair of delays -the last for more than 50 minutes - and wound up cutting the 200-mile distance by 12 laps around the tricky, 1.366-mile superspeedway. But that mattered little to Bobby Hamilton whose DANA Corporation Dodge was untouchable from the moment it rolled out of its rig borrowed from Andy Petrie Racing.
Hamilton, who led 125 of 135 laps, took checkered and yellow flags at 50 mph behind the Dodge pace truck. Fellow NASCAR Winston Cup Series veteran Ken Schrader held second-place in his Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet, marking only the second time in the tour's history that NWCS visitors held the top two spots.
Schrader, however, claimed the runnerup finish in bizarre fashion after being beaten to the final caution - at lap 125 - by Bud Pole winner Jack Sprague, who'd traded the lead with Hamilton early and easily had the second-fastest rig on the premises.
But while the field sat on pit road for nearly an hour as the track dried, Sprague's NetZero Chevrolet sank slowly on its right rear corner. When the field readied for a restart on lap 130, Sprague was forced to give up track position for a stop to replace a flat tire. He rejoined the field in 12th-place only to see the skies again open and NASCAR officials halt the event.
Scott Riggs finished third in his Team ASE Racing Dodge to build an 85-point championship lead over Joe Ruttman, the winner's teammate, whose Dodge claimed fifth-place behind the Milwaukee Electric Tool Ford of Rick Crawford.
Raybestos Rookie Travis Kvapil, Terry Cook, Matt Crafton, Billy Bigley and Nathan Haseleu completed the top 10 as 15 among a record-matching 32 finishers completed all 135 laps. Hamilton's winning pace, slowed by 34 laps of caution, was 105.461 mph.
Hamilton's second series victory was worth $43,260. He is the fourth different winner in the season's first six races.
He led three times, passing Sprague on lap three and only surrendering the point twice more * to Sprague on the 32nd circuit and to Crafton whose crew elected not to pit the freshman driver under caution on lap 106.
Hamilton, however, quickly dispatched Crafton's FastTrack Driveway Sealer Chevrolet when racing resumed on the 110th lap and held a four-second lead over Sprague and Schrader when the final of five cautions was waved for significant moisture on the backstretch and in turns three and four.
The leader admitted that Sprague's Chevrolet worried him as he prepared for the what shaped up as a 12-lap shootout that never came.
"I was (concerned) because (crew chief) Jimmy Elledge told me that I was in a class by myself except for the 24 truck," said Hamilton, who convinced NASCAR Winston Cup Series owner Petrie to loan him crew chief, tools, radios and transporter. "We know what Hendrick Motorsports could do. I was concerned about Sprague but I felt like if I could get out in the first four laps - this place if you've got a decent truck and you can run with a good rhythm and keep the consistent times going and get somebody chasing you, usually they can run their stuff (tires) in the dirt."
Sprague, who's been chasing win No. 20 for nearly a year, couldn't believe the foul turn of events - but admitted they were in keeping with his recent racing fortunes. "We can't get a break and I don't know why," he observed.
His Hendrick teammate, Ricky Hendrick, experienced his first off day of the 2001 season. The outside front row qualifier ran in third-place early but spun between the first and second turns on the 38th lap, hit the wall and finished 34th. Hendrick's DNF, coupled with Kvapil's finish, moved the latter competitor into the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year standings for the first time.
Also luckless was Ted Musgrave, flagged to pit road on the 11th lap when the window net on his Mopar Performance Dodge came loose. The three-time winner regained his lost lap on the 81st circuit but limped to a finish of 31st after being collected in a four-truck skirmish in Turn 2 triggered by Donnie Neuenberger's contact with Dennis Setzer.
Saturday's victory was the sixth in succession by a Dodge Ram, giving the truck maker the second longest winning streak in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history. Chevrolet fashioned a 10- race string in 1995, the tour's inaugural year.
Next up for the circuit is the May 20 Jelly Belly 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway near Colorado Spring, Colo.