LOUDON, N.H. - Assessing his success, or lack thereof, at New Hampshire International Speedway, one might have questioned Jack Sprague's longtime handle of "Mile Track Jack." No longer. On Saturday, before an announced crowd of more than...
LOUDON, N.H. - Assessing his success, or lack thereof, at New Hampshire International Speedway, one might have questioned Jack Sprague's longtime handle of "Mile Track Jack."
On Saturday, before an announced crowd of more than 50,000 that took in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series New England 200, Sprague finally got the best of the 1.058-mile superspeedway - and how.
Starting from his fifth Bud Pole of the 2001 season, Sprague led the first 160 laps around the Magic Mile. Following a round of green flag pit stops and a final caution flag that erased a 10-second cushion, the two-time series champion easily prevailed in a seven-lap shootout that left runnerup Travis Kvapil 0.932-second behind Sprague's NetZero Platinum Chevrolet.
The victory was Sprague's second of the year, 21st on the series, seventh on a 'mile' track and worth $47,260 plus a $10,000 Craftsman-sponsored pole/win bonus. He completed the 200-lap, 211.6- mile distance at a record pace of 109.244 mph.
Sprague earlier this year erased a 0-for-6 record at Texas Motor Speedway. A year ago, a second lap accident in NHIS' third-turn left Sprague dead last. Sprague got within one turn and a straightaway of victory in the NHIS 1996 inaugural before wrecking in a side-by-side battle with Joe Ruttman.
"I was hitting on all eight (cylinders)," said Sprague who became the track's sixth consecutive different winner. "I didn't want to see that last caution (but) when we took off, I just got up on the wheel and got away from (Kvapil) over the last couple of laps.
"This does not make up for all of the races we've given away but it sure feels better than it did last week."
Kvapil, who went a lap behind when he short-pitted his CAT Rental Store Chevrolet on lap 160 when his right front tire began deflating, got an A-plus for effort but had nothing for Sprague. In fact, he was pleased to hold off Dennis Setzer's rapidly closing ACXIOM/Computer Associates Silverado at the flag.
Ricky Hendrick, who with Setzer was the only other driver to lead a lap, made it a top-four sweep for Chevrolet " a first for the manufacturer since Sept. 19, 1998 at Gateway International Raceway. Ted Musgrave finished fifth, bringing his Mopar Performance Dodge from a 12th-place start.
Terry Cook's Power Stroke Diesel Ford claimed sixth, trailed by Ken Schrader and Ruttman, the latter coasting across the stripe with engine problems. Stacy Compton and Matt Crafton completed the top 10, each a lap off the pace.
The big loser on a picture perfect New England afternoon was NCTS point leader Scott Riggs who chased Sprague in vain until shearing a brake caliper in the first turn of the 49th lap. Riggs' Team ASE Dodge spun, brushed the outside wall, then spent 17 laps behind pit wall under repair.
Riggs' 24th-place finish left the championship battle, with 10 races remaining, in a virtual three- way dead heat. Riggs exited NHIS with an eight-point edge over Ruttman and 11 ahead of Sprague.
The previous afternoon's final practice removed a major obstacle from Sprague's path to victory circle when Bobby Hamilton, the No. 2 qualifier and fastest during the half-hour session, cut a right front tire and severely damaged his DANA Corporation Dodge. Hamilton went to a backup, started at the rear and was lapped by the 41st serial.
Sprague and the field pitted twice under caution on laps 50 and 92 then saw all-green competition from lap 111 through 188. Musgrave topped off on the 107th circuit, after Brian Rose tapped the wall between turns two and three, but joined his rivals on pit road during the green flag pit sequence that began with Kvapil's early visit.
Hendrick took over the lead when Sprague pitted for rights on the 160th lap. Hendrick's stop, on lap 174, elevated Setzer to the front where he ran until the 177th circuit, leaving Sprague with a 9.2- second advantage over Kvapil that grew to an even 10 seconds. Riggs, however, cut a tire on lap 188, scattering debris in Turn 3 to trigger the fourth caution.
The field restarted single-file on lap 194 with notable lack of suspense when Sprague quickly came up to speed.
"Jack was just a little better than we were,' admitted Kvapil after finishing second for the third time in his Raybestos Rookie campaign. "His truck turned a little better through the corners than ours did. I could run with him but I really didn't have anything for him."
The New England 200 concluded a five-week run for the series, which takes a breather before the Aug. 3 Power Stroke Diesel 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.