DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It appears Californian Joe Ruttman, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' senior citizen, has found a second home in Florida. Ruttman, 56, held off the charge of a pair of newcomers with a combined age of 30 years to win ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It appears Californian Joe Ruttman, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' senior citizen, has found a second home in Florida.
Ruttman, 56, held off the charge of a pair of newcomers with a combined age of 30 years to win Friday's Florida Dodge Dealers 250. It marked the second time Ruttman had triumphed on the series in the Sunshine State. Ruttman's second consecutive Bud Pole at Daytona International Speedway also marked the third time he's started first in an NCTS event in Florida.
The $94,310 Ruttman and Bobby Hamilton Racing pocketed, which included a $10,000 Craftsman pole-win bonus, might seem like a nice nest egg for a retiree - except Ruttman has no immediate plans to hang up the helmet.
In fact, he and the team are determined to do more than just contend for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2001. There was little in Friday's performance, in which Ruttman led four times for 30 laps around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, to suggest that's an unrealistic goal.
Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contender Ricky Hendrick and sophomore competitor Scott Riggs, the latter driving for the team that won last year's inaugural Daytona event, got two late shots at Ruttman's DANA Corporation Dodge - including a two-lap shootout that stretched the scheduled, 100-lap distance by four serials.
Neither challenger could mount an effective challenge at the end - due to superspeedway inexperience, the strength of Ruttman's truck or a combination of both. Ruttman crossed the stripe with a 0.318-second cushion over Hendrick's GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet with Riggs' Team ASE Racing Dodge completing the three-truck draft.
"I wish I could have done it 30 years ago when I was younger," quipped Ruttman, winner of the track's ARCA 200 in 1982 who also won the 1997 NCTS season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway. "It's a ball racing these young guys and I think that's what keeps me young, seeing if I can outwit them a little bit."
Lance Norick, logging his first top-five finish in his 109th series appearance, finished fourth in the Aventis Behring Choice Chevrolet. Randy Tolsma's Team Rensi Chevrolet placed fifth. The second five finishers were Terry Cook, Coy Gibbs, Bryan Reffner, Lyndon Amick and Rick Crawford. Morgan Shepherd and Jack Sprague also completed the full race distance.
Ruttman averaged 129.407 mph for the 210-mile distance, his pace slowed by eight caution periods that consumed 29 laps. The final yellow flag showed as Ruttman was about to take the white flag, when Raybestos Rookies Chuck Hossfeld and Larry Gunselman tangled in Turn 1.
The two were among nine competitors sidelined by accidents. None of the drivers involved, including nine from a fourth lap tangle on the track's south banking, suffered injury.
A record-matching 12 different drivers swapped the lead 28 times with Ruttman taking over for good on the 87th circuit when the Mopar Performance Dodge of Ted Musgrave slowed on the backstretch with engine problems. Musgrave, who led 26 laps, sat on the point five times after involvement in the lap three accident in his bid to become only the second driver to win his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start
Other race leaders who didn't make it to the checkered flag included Dennis Setzer, a victim of engine failure and Hossfeld. Hendrick and Riggs each led three times. Crawford, Tolsma, Shepherd, Cook and Reffner also shared time at the front of the field.
The outcome was anything but decided when the leaders began making green flag fuel stops on the 61st lap. Ruttman, Riggs, Musgrave, Cook and Amick pitted on the 78th lap and - in what looked like a critical move at the time - the Hamilton crew dropped the jack before four-tire service had been completed. At least 20 seconds elapsed before Ruttman was able to depart. When the round of pit stops concluded, at lap 80, Ruttman was in 10th-place.
Fortune, however, smiled when debris on the backstretch brought out the sixth caution one lap later. Ruttman, with four new tires, remained on the race track to regain the real estate he lost on pit road. And, when Musgrave departed, the race was his.
Hendrick, who had been shuffled out of the lead on a crucial restart at the conclusion of the previous Sunday's ARCA 200, thought he had a shot at Ruttman. "We were just waiting and waiting but it was just every man for himself that last lap," the 20-year-old driver said after Riggs pulled high in Turn 3 in an attempt to take second-place.
The finish gave Hendrick the first round lead in Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year standings with 21 points. Ruttman will carry a 10-point championship advantage over Hendrick when the tour heads for the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the March 4 Florida Dodge Dealers 400. Ruttman won the Bud Pole at the 1.5-mile venue in 1997.