SPRAGUE SEEKS VINDICATION FOR '97 WDWS DISAPPOINTMENT Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - One might have to forgive Jack Sprague for having less than positive memories of the Magic Kingdom. On Dec. 15-16, Jack Sprague returned to Walt Disney...
SPRAGUE SEEKS VINDICATION FOR '97 WDWS DISAPPOINTMENT
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - One might have to forgive Jack Sprague for having less than positive memories of the Magic Kingdom. On Dec. 15-16, Jack Sprague returned to Walt Disney World Speedway, the scene of his most frustrating racing experience of the 1997 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS), for open testing in preparation for the 1998 Chevy Trucks Challenge. Sprague dominated the inaugural Chevy Trucks Challenge, leading five times for 177 laps over the one-mile course. He looked like the sure winner, but fate had other plans for the spunky, sometimes cantankerous driver. On the last lap of that 200-lap event, Sprague made contact with Joe Ruttman in Turn 1. His bright green truck swapped ends, then tagged the outside retaining wall. Ruttman, who had conserved his tires during the stretch to make a run at Sprague in the closing laps, went on to win the race, while Sprague limped home in 15th place, the last truck on the lead lap. Sprague shook off the bad outing, and marched to the Craftsman Truck Series championship on the strength of 16 top five and 23 top 10 finishes, including three victories driving a Chevy prepared by Rick Hendrick Motorsports. "We dominated this race last year, and maybe it owes me a little bit," said Sprague, during a break in the testing session. "The track didn't take it away from me. It was one of those things. I've been racing a long time, and I've been in that situation before." The Chevy Trucks Challenge, scheduled to run on Jan. 18 at WDWS, is the kickoff event to NASCAR's popular touring series for 1998. Since the next NCTS race isn't until April, the winner of this event gets to boast for nearly two months, while those less fortunate, such as Sprague in 1997, have to stew in their own juices. "It killed me when it happened, because I had to wait two months before the next race," said Sprague, who hails from Michigan. "But you got to go on, and get on with it. That's what we did, and we went on to win the championship." Sprague and Ruttman raced several more times during the season, but never produced another dramatic moment like they shared in the Chevy Trucks Challenge. "Dwelling on stuff isn't a good thing to do," said Sprague. "We raced Joe several times throughout the rest of the year and we raced fine. Hey, I don't have a problem with him. It's not the last time something like that will happen to either one of us. You can't harbor bad feelings for very long." Sprague has big plans in 1998. In addition to defending his NCTS title, he'll make five Winston Cup Series appearances in a Hendrick-prepared Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Hendrick Motorsports has won the last three Winston Cup titles with Jeff Gordon (1995, '97) and Terry Labonte (1996). Hendrick is the hottest team in NASCAR competition right now, and Sprague hopes to add another log to the fire. Sprague plans to enter at least two races during the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series break between Disney and Homestead, scheduled April 4. "We've got three new cars we've put together," said Sprague. "That'll get us through five races. I'll only race five times so I can still keep my rookie status for 1999, and get my feet a little wet in Winston Cup cars. We're doing this so that when we move up there, we won't be at a disadvantage." This is Sprague's last year racing trucks. The 33-year-old driver doesn't mince words when he talks about the 1999 racing season. He's going to drive a Winston Cup car full-time in another year. That means, in all likelihood, this will be Sprague's last appearance at the one-mile course built on the doorstep of Disney's Magic Kingdom. This is the race he wants to win before exiting to the Winston Cup level. "Going to Winston Cup is what I've worked for my whole life, not that I'm unhappy racing in this series," said Sprague. "I absolutely love the NCTS. It's given my family a great living. But I've got to make the move. The plan now is to do it at Hendrick Motorsports. That's what I'm going to work 100 percent to make happen. That is the deal at this point. In 1999 Jack Sprague has to race Winston Cup." Despite losing his primary sponsor (Quaker State), Sprague is looking forward to another banner season, and defending his crown. Hendrick built a powerhouse team around Sprague, and his crew chief Dennis Connor. "You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with," said Sprague. "I'm proof of that, because I struggled through the Busch Grand National Series stuff. I never got a solid, well-backed situation in Busch racing. It was never the whole package like it is here. I've got the best crew chief and car owner in the world." Tickets are still available for the 1998 Chevy Trucks Challenge at all Florida TicketMaster outlets, or by calling (407) 839-3900 or (813) 287-8844.
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