Daytona race notes

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Joe Ruttman has won four consecutive races from a Bud Pole start but nobody ever could accuse him of leaving the fans with a yawn on their faces. In three of the four races - including Friday's Florida Dodge Dealers 250 - ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Joe Ruttman has won four consecutive races from a Bud Pole start but nobody ever could accuse him of leaving the fans with a yawn on their faces. In three of the four races - including Friday's Florida Dodge Dealers 250 - Ruttman failed to lead the first lap and since those wins featured combined 57 lead changes, it might be fair to say that Ruttman is a master at pacing himself. He's also a master of working with crew chiefs. Danny Rollins, making his first start as the boss of the No. 18 DANA Corporation Dodge team, is the seventh different crew chief Ruttman has taken to a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory circle.

Ruttman, who matched Mike Bliss for No. 2 on the series all-time Bud Pole chart with 14, also became Daytona International Speedway's oldest NASCAR winner at 56 years three months. He supplanted Bobby Allison who was 51 years two months when he won the 1988 Daytona 500.

Of the three drivers chasing Ruttman home in the Florida Dodge Dealers 250, only one - Scott Riggs, fifth at Richmond in 2000 - ever had finished among the top five in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. Second-place finisher Ricky Hendrick's best performance was a sixth-place in his first series appearance last May at Pikes Peak. Two seventh-place runs had been the best Lance Norick could muster in 108 previous trips to the starting stripe.

Coy Gibbs also posted a career best run of seventh. Gibbs, whose MBNA Chevrolet team hired Gary Showalter to guide its efforts for the 2001 season, ran 13th at Chicago - a race Ruttman also won.

Terry Cook, sixth this year and fourth in 2000, was the only competitor in the field to log a top 10 finish in both runnings of the Florida Dodge Dealers 250. Ultra Motorsports, winner of the inaugural event and third this time with Riggs, was the only top 10 owner returnee.

Although Hendrick, like Kurt Busch in 2000, finished second, this year's race was a throwaway for freshman competitors. He was the only Raybestos Rookie to place among the first 17.

Said father and team owner Rick Hendrick of attempting to coach his 20-year-old son on the final lap, "As big as the button was on the radio, I couldn't put my finger on the button. My hand was shaking so fast. I don't do a very good job being a father and an owner watching my son race." Added the elder Hendrick, "He drove a smart race and stayed out of trouble."

Hendrick, Chuck Hossfeld, Ted Musgrave and Morgan Shepherd led a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event for the first time. Bryan Reffner has led three consecutive races while Ruttman has headed six of the last 10.

This year's front row featured the same two trucks as in 2000: Ruttman, again on the Bud Pole and the No. 2 Riggs truck that was driven a year ago by race winner Mike Wallace. Wallace wasn't far from the action as he rested up for Sunday's Daytona 500. He provided color commentary for MRN Radio listeners.

Friday's race marked the final time the 9.5:1 compression engine was required in NCTS competition. Teams have the option of switching to the 12:1 V8 when the 2000 season resumes March 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

-Owen Kearns

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ted Musgrave , Ricky Hendrick , Coy Gibbs , Chuck Hossfeld , Lance Norick , Terry Cook , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Bryan Reffner , Mike Bliss , Morgan Shepherd