Phoenix Race Report

Bliss holds on for emotional win By Matthew Leach PHOENIX (Oct, 24, 1998) As Saturday's GM Goodwrench Service Plus/ACDelco 300 at Phoenix International Raceway wound to a close, the only thing that could stop Mike Bliss was bad luck. Bad...

Bliss holds on for emotional win By Matthew Leach

PHOENIX (Oct, 24, 1998) As Saturday's GM Goodwrench Service Plus/ACDelco 300 at Phoenix International Raceway wound to a close, the only thing that could stop Mike Bliss was bad luck. Bad luck has stopped Bliss enough times, though, that he wasn't taking anything for granted until he saw the checkered flag.

This time, Bliss made it, and how. The driver of the No. 2 Team ASE Ford was untouchable when he had a lead, and in the end he cruised to a victory by nearly three seconds over second-place Greg Biffle. Ron Hornaday finished third, with Joe Ruttman and Andy Houston making up the rest of the top-five finishers.

Hornaday's third-place finish, combined with the 13th-place showing of top rival and defending series champion Jack Sprague, put Hornaday back in the points lead. The 1996 champion holds an unofficial margin of 13 points with only one race left on the schedule.

Bliss, who also won the Bud Pole, picked up his second win of the season, and the sixth of his series career, in a race that was delayed nearly an hour by a power outage. He is only the third driver to win from the No. 1 starting spot this year.

"I drove easy," Bliss said. "I was not going to spin out. I was not going to blow a tire. I just drove easy. I was easy on the brakes. We didn't heat up the right front, and the Goodyears held out."

It was an emotional win for the native of Milwaukie, Ore., who is leaving the No. 2 team after the this season to pursue other opportunities. He has been plagued by bad luck all season, seeing six top-10 starts turn into finishes outside the top-20.

"It hurts when I sit here and think about how great we are, and we're going different ways," Bliss said. "We've been so close this year. I've learned a lot this year. It's pretty emotional. We've got one more race -- Vegas. We had that one won last year and we're gonna go kick some butt this year."

But there was no stopping Bliss on Saturday. He stretched out big leads twice, and though he fell behind at times due to pit sequence, no one was consistently stronger over the final two-thirds of the event.

Early in the race, three-time Phoenix winner Sprague jumped out to a lead of nearly three full seconds, and it appeared he might run away with the race. But he sustained damage to the No. 24 after contact with Rick McCray's truck racing back to the afternoon's first yellow flag.

Compounding the problem was a radio failure that meant Sprague missed his team's signal to pit when the rest of the field did. He came in later during the yellow period, but he lost valuable track position and was never able to regain it. Sprague placed 13th in the final rundown.

Bliss and Hornaday took advantage of Sprague's misfortune with an excellent pit stop, with Hornaday leading the field at the restart and Bliss second. The two diced it out for about 10 laps before Bliss began to pull away for the first time.

Bliss came in again under the second yellow, but Hornaday stayed out, taking the lead when the field returned to green. However, Bliss was not far back in sixth, and when Hornaday came in shortly after on the next caution, Bliss found himself in third, behind rookies Greg Biffle and Andy Houston. The two young hotshots waged a fierce battle for 20 laps while Bliss lurked close behind.

However, when the final round of pit stops cycled under yellow, Bliss came out in second, ahead of both rookies. He took the point from Jay Sauter with 55 laps remaining and never looked back.

Biffle's second-place matched a career best, and he was thrilled with the result.

"I didn't nearly think I had that good of a truck going into this race," Biffle said. "We just kind of waited around the first 10 laps, started working my way toward the front, and it just kept getting better and better. A lot of guys got loose, and a lot of guys got tight, but my truck just stayed so neutral ... It was a lot of fun.

"The guys did a great job today. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have been where I was all day. The guys had some awesome stops today. You know I see guys turning and adjusting their trucks - we didn't do anything to the truck but put tires on it all day."

The 1998 season wraps up in two weeks with the Nov. 8 Sam's Town 250 presented by Las Vegas Events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Greg Biffle , Andy Houston , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jack Sprague , Joe Ruttman , Mike Bliss