Nashville race report

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Randy Tolsma's two and a half year stretch of ill fortune ended Saturday night at Nashville Speedway USA as two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague continued to grapple with his own run of bad...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Randy Tolsma's two and a half year stretch of ill fortune ended Saturday night at Nashville Speedway USA as two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague continued to grapple with his own run of bad luck in the 2000 season. Sprague, in control of the Federated Auto Parts 250 for the first 148 laps around the 0.596-mile speedway, suffered engine failure a lap later during routine pit service and stalled on pit road. That handed the lead to Tolsma, who never looked back. The winner's CITGO SUPERGARD Dodge led the final 102 laps, besting defending race winner Dennis Setzer by 1.402 seconds - about 14 truck lengths - and broke a record, 73-race winless streak that dated to October 1997. Tolsma averaged a race record 83.577 mph in the series' final stop at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The event is due to move to the new 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway in 2001. "Tonight was the night," said Tolsma, who won $44,585 to become the series' 16th million dollar winner. "I'm gonna break down and cry my eyes out. This is a famous race track and to win here is special." Tolsma, a devout Christian who led prayers during the pre-race chapel service, had come close to snapping his losing streak. Earlier in the season, he finished second twice, at Pikes Peak international Raceway and at Evergreen Speedway. The latter race saw a dominant Tolsma foiled by Sprague on a green, white and checkered flag finish that extended the Sears 200 by seven laps. And he was thinking of that race as the things wound down in Nashville. "I was nervous every lap, especially the last 10," admitted the bespectacled Tolsma, a former midget and sprint car driver who more resembles a college professor than a NASCAR trucker. Tolsma was effusive in praise of his veteran crew chief, Gary Showalter, who became the first to win on the series with four different drivers - Tolsma, Terry Cook, Butch Miller and the late Kenny Irwin. "Gary made great calls all night," said the winner who elected to hold track position over fresh tires when the sixth and final caution waved on lap 203. Setzer, who started his Mopar Performance Ram in mid-pack, methodically picked his way through traffic while preserving his Goodyear Eagles. He took second-place from veteran Steve Grissom on the 240th lap, giving Dodge a one-two finish. Setzer won the Federated Auto Parts 250 a year ago, the first time a Dodge had defended a race on any series track. Saturday's race also marked the first back-to-back finishes by a Dodge truck on the tour, backing up Joe Ruttman's Indianapolis Raceway Park victory of Aug. 3. In fact, the manufacturer scored a season-high four drivers among the top-five finishers and five among the top-seven. Two-time Nashville Speedway USA champion Chad Chaffin, driving the Romeo Guest Construction Ford in his first series start, took third, holding off Ruttman's DANA Corporation Dodge at the checkered flag. Grissom, fading in the waning laps after bending his truck's fender onto the right front tire, finished fifth in the Petty Enterprises-fielded Dodge Ram. Andy Houston, Scott Riggs, Bryan Reffner, Ricky Hendrick and Rick Crawford completed the top- 10 finishers. Hendrick and Crawford finished a lap behind Tolsma. Sprague finished 30th in the 34-truck field. His fourth DNF of the year was the most in a single season in his six seasons on tour. "We had five years of fantastic luck. Sometimes you win one; sometimes you lose one," said Sprague. "I was glad to see Randy get his win tonight." NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point leader Greg Biffle finished 13th, one spot behind rival Mike Wallace, but retained a lead of 190 with five races remaining in the 2000 season. His finish out of the top-10 ended a 13-race run of top-five finishes. His race-led string also was snapped after eight. Saturday's race saw a Nashville-low 38 laps of caution. A six-truck accident on the 165th lap eliminated a number of drivers including Bud Pole starter Jamie McMurray who failed to lead a lap when Sprague out-raced him off the second turn of the initial serial. After McMurray failed in his lap 33 bid to dislodge Sprague from the lead, the 1997 Federated Auto Parts 250 winner ran unchallenged and built leads of up to three seconds. Rookie McMurray's inexperience showed as he lost ground in lapped traffic and, following two rounds of pit stops, fell out of the top-five. Grissom, Setzer and Ruttman, meanwhile, were atoning for poor qualifying efforts - 14th, 17th and 20th, respectively. And, after Sprague's troubles, the race became an all-Dodge affair with Riggs and McMurray among the contenders, as well. McMurray came to grief on lap 165, bumping Marty Houston's Chevrolet in the first turn as he attempted to lap Houston. Houston, unhappy with the tactic, slammed into the tailgate of McMurray's Dodge then - with McMurray loose - applied another nudge that sent the rookie into the outside wall. Four other drivers - Randy MacDonald, Mark Petty, Jimmy Hensley and B.A. Wilson - got caught up in the melee that produced a red flag of nearly four minutes to clear the wreckage. "I got into a little shoving match with Jamie and I think I won but I hate it for the other guys," said Houston who was summoned to confer with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director Wayne Auton following the event.

Notes:

Competitors and fans alike said their good-byes to Nashville Speedway USA Saturday as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ran its final event at the venerable Tennessee Fairgrounds oval. Dover Downs Entertainment Corp., holder of the facility's lease, made it official that the 2001 edition of the Federated Auto Parts 250 will be staged at the new, 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway.

That facility, well underway in Wilson County some 20 minutes east of Nashville International Airport, is expected to produce an economic windfall of $240 million during construction phases. A Saturday morning tour comprised of Dover Downs officials, NASCAR representatives and members of the news media viewed progress at the site - where thousands of tons of limestone have been blasted and will be incorporated in the track's concrete surface.

Track surfacing is expected to begin in October and continue through the winter months.

Also well underway is a 160-foot-high grandstand that will seat approximately 50,000 - nearly four times as many as the capacity crowd that saw Randy Tolsma become the last winner of a NASCAR national touring series at Nashville Speedway USA. Coincidentally, Randy LaJoie took the checkers at the venue's final NASCAR Busch Series event in April.

Pre-race activities included a hospitality tent chock-full of Nashville Speedway USA memorabilia, charting the progress of auto racing from June 1904 through the present. The exhibit contained many personal items contributed by several generations of competitors at the track.

Among "live" history were appearances by speedway legends, including Walter "W.W" Wallace, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series inspector who won two championships at Nashville Speedway.

Some suggested the exhibit be expanded and made permanent as a Middle Tennessee Racing Hall of Fame at the new Nashville Superspeedway.

The Nashville Speedway USA finale set a number of records: fastest race (83.577 mph), fewest caution periods (six) and fewest caution laps (38). In fact, no previous event had counted fewer than 51 laps run under the yellow flag.

Tolsma supplanted Rick Carelli in the series record book as breaking the longest drought between NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories. Carelli had gone 63 races before claiming his second victory in September 1998 at Gateway International Raceway. Tolsma snapped a 73-race winless streak dating to his only series win on Oct. 12, 1997 at Mesa Marin Raceway.

Rick Crawford now carries the greatest number of starts among active series drivers - 69 - since his Homestead Miami Speedway victory of April 4, 1998. Crawford was forced to take a provisional start following a poor qualifying effort (the crew later discovered a disconnected sway bar) but finished a gritty 10th in the Federated Auto Parts 250. It was Crawford's 35th top-10 finish among 97 series starts.

"It seems like tragedy has been following us around all week," said Crawford in salute to his team. "Gator (Gene Morris), our jack man, lost his grandfather yesterday. Mike Cheek, our crew chief, has a father that is really having a rough time with inoperable cancer and, earlier this year, his son got shot. (Series photographer) Ronda Greer's father has cancer in his kidneys (so) it just seems to have surrounded us."

Winning crew chief Gary Showalter is one of just two active crew chiefs to count NCTS victories in the 1995 inaugural season. The other is Tim Kohuth, then with Ken Schrader Racing. Showalter is the only "boss" to win for three different teams - Liberty Racing (Butch Miller and the late Kenny Irwin), Sealmaster Racing (Terry Cook) and Impact Motorsports (Tolsma).

Long Brothers Racing continues to turn heads in a limited campaign. Donnie Neuenberger finished ninth in the Daytona 250 aboard an ex-Roehrig Engineering Ford. Scott Riggs also was ninth at Martinsville Speedway, laying the groundwork for his move to the Royal Crown Cola Dodge - along with the team's co-owner Charlie Long.

Brother Robert Long didn't miss a beat in the team's third appearance of the year as two-time Nashville Speedway USA champion Chad Chaffin turned in a third-place performance.

Owen Kearns

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Ken Schrader , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Andy Houston , Marty Houston , Ricky Hendrick , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Bryan Reffner , Randy Tolsma , Jimmy Hensley , Rick Carelli , Chad Chaffin , Steve Grissom , Butch Miller