Kentucky Speedway race report

SPARTA, Ky. - Fuel mileage, a strong truck and a little good luck added up to a winning combination for Greg Biffle Saturday night as he captured Kentucky Speedway's inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 250 before an announced ...

SPARTA, Ky. - Fuel mileage, a strong truck and a little good luck added up to a winning combination for Greg Biffle Saturday night as he captured Kentucky Speedway's inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 250 before an announced crowd of more than 60,000. Biffle, who led 53 of the $702,000 race's 150 laps around America¢s newest, 1.5-mile superspeedway, dispatched Mike Wallace's Team ASE Racing Ford on the 108th circuit then pulled away to a 2.182-second decision over Jack Sprague. The victory, worth a career-topping $77,085, put an exclamation point on Biffle's triumph at Texas Motor Speedway eight days earlier and marked the third time in four starts the Grainger Ford team has gone to victory lane. Biffle, who averaged a relatively slow 98.385 mph due to 49 laps of caution, extended his NCTS point lead to 29 over Sprague who powered his GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet past Wallace to snatch second-place off the final turn. Wallace, headed for a possible default victory when a rain shower halted action after lap 82, finished third. No. 3 qualifier Marty Houston held the lead draft most of the race to take fourth and register his first top-five finish on the series. Bud Pole winner Bryan Reffner, who led 50 of the race's first 94 laps, ran fifth. Randy Tolsma, recovering from a last-place start after stopping on the pace lap with tire/wheel problems, finished sixth, followed by Rick Carelli, Rob Morgan, Andy Houston and Rick Crawford. Eighteen of 29 finishers completed the 225-mile distance - 50 percent of the starting field of 36 teams. Two late cautions - for Scott Riggs' backstretch accident on lap 128 and Ryan McGlynn's second mishap at lap 140 - probably sealed the victory for Biffle who chose to maintain track position after pitting for the last time on lap 86. He was nearly out of fuel - and definitely out of tires - when he accepted Roy Selby's checkered flag. "There is about one gallon left in the fuel cell and if you look at the front tires, there are cords hanging out of the right front all the way around," Biffle said in his post-race interview. "We took a gamble - and had we not had those caution laps there at the end, we would have probably been a couple of laps short." The much-anticipated opening of Kentucky Speedway nearly was postponed by a monsoon-like storm that dropped three inches of rain in the northern Kentucky area overnight and rendered useless much of the track's parking areas. A late-afternoon shower delayed the start more than an hour and the mid-race downpour - with the Kroger 225 four laps past being official - nearly produced the tour's first weather-abbreviated event since last September's race in Richmond, Va. Reffner and Biffle, the front row starters, shared the lead in the early going as crews kept one eye on the track and the other on the swirling clouds. Reffner extended his lead after a 12th lap pass of Biffle, whose truck slid high through speedy-dry between turns three and four - the residue from a first-lap accident involving Terry Cook, Chris Horn, Riggs and Jay Stewart. Wallace, who started 17th, roared into the top-six by the 14th lap and, after the field pitted under caution on lap 52, overhauled Lance Norick to take the point on the 65th stanza. After the one hour three minute red flag break, Biffle and Roush partner Kurt Busch came to life. Busch, who'd spun in the second turn on lap 52, charged back through the field on four fresh tires to pass Reffner for the lead on lap 95. Another round of pit stops, after Joe Ruttman slammed the frontstretch wall on lap 106, handed back the advantage to Wallace for a single lap - then to Biffle who, along with Tolsma Steve Grissom and David Starr, stayed on the racing surface. A lap after the restart, Busch's race ended with a spectacular, flame-punctuated trip into the Turn 4 wall. Tucked in a tight, four-truck draft for second-place with Tolsma, Starr and Marty Houston, Busch's Exide Ford broke lose. He escaped unscathed. "I just screwed up two weeks in a row," admitted Busch, whose late brush with the wall at Texas cost the rookie-of-the-year leader his fourth second-place finish of 2000. "I've been looking like a rookie lately, making too many mistakes, and it's beginning to catch up." The field got two more shots at Biffle in the waning laps - the final time on the 145th lap - but point leader proved as quick and elusive as the Cincinnati Zoo's cheetah that earlier in the week set a record for a 100-meter dash across Kentucky Speedway's tri-oval grass. Wallace had nothing for Biffle when it counted, Sprague fought a handling problem early and was too far back when it counted and Reffner's mount tightened up in the deciding laps. "I tell you during that rain I was happy with the sixth spot if they¢d called the race. My truck was pretty evil," said Sprague. His Dennis Connor led crew, however, kept on adjusting and salvaged a crowd-pleasing pass of Wallace at the finish. Wallace chafed a bit over the final restart. "(Biffle) would bog us down and then get a tremendous jump on us," he said while adding, "We really didn't have anything for Biffle." The Kroger 225 completed the first half of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series campaign. Next event is the June 24 Bully Hill Vineyards 150 at Watkins Glen International, a combination weekend with the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division.

Greg Biffle now has won three inaugural events on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, adding Saturday¢s Kroger 225 at Kentucky Speedway to a list of 1999 victories at Portland International Raceway and Michigan Speedway. Biffle, who¢ll move into Roush Racing¢s No. 60 NASCAR Busch Series car in 2001, obviously hopes that tour will visit the $153 million venue.

"It's a great facility and I hope that they get a NASCAR Busch Series race so I can come back soon," said Biffle.

Cincinnati area fans got to see the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' best go head-to-head at the finish as the top three in points - Biffle, Jack Sprague and Mike Wallace - ran one, two and three. Kentucky Speedway officials announced ticket sales at 63,750, making the Kroger 225 the largest stand- alone event in series history and No. 2 to this year's Daytona 250. Saturday's race marked the 10th time in 12 races Biffle, Sprague and Wallace have finishedon the lead lap. Sprague, meanwhile, became the first competitor to log 10 top-10 finishes in 2000. Each of the trio counts more than $300,000 in winnings at the schedule¢s halfway mark with Biffle the money leader at $333,170. Bryan Reffner, who set a rookie record of three poles (broken in 1998 by Biffle), hadn't been the No. 1 qualifier since the final race of his freshman season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in November 1996. At Kentucky Speedway he out-dueled Biffle for the inside front row starting spot, setting the one-lap record at 168.460 mph. The difference in their lap times was 34-thousandths of a second. That turned out to be a $10,000 split second for Biffle who would have collected a prize in that amount from Craftsman for winning from the Bud Pole. The Kroger 225 marked the eighth time in 12 races the winner has started from the front row. Biffle's win was the 20th for Roush Racing and 17th for crew chief Randy Goss. Each stands second on all-time win lists, although Jack Roush joins Richard Childress in the slot. Ford now has won 45 times on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Rob Morgan, whose luck has run 180 degrees counter to Biffle¢s in 2000, finished eighth. That was the Arkansas driver's first top-10 on a superspeedway. His father and former IMSA driving partner Charles Morgan Jr. will make his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut on June 24 at Watkins Glen International at the wheel of a second Morgan-Dollar Racing Ford. The elder Morgan is CEO of Acxiom, a data storage firm. The Kroger 225's 49 laps of caution were the greatest number of yellow flag serials on a superspeedway in 2000. Eighteen drivers, half the starting field, completed all 150 laps. That's two fewer than the season's greatest number at Phoenix International Raceway. The race's average speed of 98.385 mph becomes the year's slowest on a superspeedway - and more than 60 mph slower than Reffner's Bud Pole speed. On Thursday, during the track's optional test, Jamie McMurray lost his primary truck in a Turn 3 accident triggered by a loose oil line. Owner Mike Mittler brought in a backup Ford F-150 and McMurray finished 17th to win $1,000 as the race's top freshman.

Owen Kearns

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers David Starr , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Andy Houston , Kurt Busch , Marty Houston , Jack Sprague , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Ryan McGlynn , Bryan Reffner , Randy Tolsma , Rob Morgan , Charles Morgan , Jack Roush