LATE CAUTION DOOMS DOMINANT SPRAGUE'S BID FOR FIRST NASCAR CRAFTSMAN WIN OF '99 BY OWEN KEARNS JR. FOUNTAIN, Colo. -- A dozen laps were all it took to send Jack Sprague's elevator plummeting from the presidential suite to the ...
LATE CAUTION DOOMS DOMINANT SPRAGUE'S BID FOR FIRST NASCAR CRAFTSMAN WIN OF '99
BY OWEN KEARNS JR.
FOUNTAIN, Colo. -- A dozen laps were all it took to send Jack Sprague's elevator plummeting from the presidential suite to the laundry room on the basement floor. Sprague, sitting on the largest lead in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history, caught one caution flag too many in the waning laps of Sunday's NAPA 300K at Pikes Peak International Raceway and lost a shocking, final lap decision to a resurgent Mike Wallace. With just nine laps remaining in the 186-mile distance, the 1997 series champion held a one- serial lead over the field, the result of a green flag pit stop Sprague had declined to make. When Rob Morgan's engine expired, stalling his Acxiom Ford in Turn 2, Sprague headed for pit road under caution -- a move that allowed six of his competitors to regain the lead lap. All Sprague had to do, however, was run four laps to take his first checkered flag of 1999. It didn't happen. On lap 185, Terry Fisher smacked the Turn 4 wall, bringing out caution No. 4. It also moved Wallace's Team ASE Racing Ford onto the tailgate of Sprague's GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet for a two-lap shootout. Sprague's truck developed a serious push when the chips were down, giving Wallace the come-from-behind boost the St. Louis driver needed to cement his second victory of the 1999 season. Entering Turn 3, Wallace drove his F-150 low as Sprague slid up the banking. The pair came out of the final turn side-by-side, crossing the stripe just 0.013-second apart for the third- closest finish in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history. Wallace, who averaged a record 109.777mph, collected $43,675 for the victory while Sprague finished second for the third time in the year's seven races. "The final caution came out and I couldn't believe it," said Wallace, who earlier came from two laps behind to win the companion NASCAR Winston West Series King Soopers 150. "I said, 'just give me two laps.'" Ironically, the 16th-starting Wallace literally came from out of nowhere. He exited pit road barely in the top-15 when racing resumed following a lap 91 pit stop sequence, but methodically worked his way up the running order. "The truck had been handling terribly and pushing terribly. The guys did a great job," said the winner. "They made a right rear spring change and right side tires and then I just drove my butt off." Sprague, understandably, was in a state beyond disappointment, wondering what he has to do to find victory lane in 1999. "When you run ninth like we did last week at Memphis and we were junk and we knew we were junk, that makes you mad," he said. "But to have a great piece of equipment and you can't get it done, that hurts. Our pit strategy was working perfectly ... (it) was just the cautions at the end. You can't ever guess what will happen. It just happens. Wallace led just one lap, the one that paid. Sprague, on the other hand, headed a race-best 105 turns around the one-mile oval. Six different drivers led the event, trading the No. 1 spot eight times. The finish barely beat a spring shower, which had threatened to douse the racing surface during the final 30 laps. Kevin Harvick finished third in the Porter-Cable Power Tools Ford, producing a third consecutive top-three effort and, again, winning both Gatorade Front Runner and MCI Worldcom Fast Pace awards. Sophomore campaigner Andy Houston was fourth in the Cat Rental Stores Chevrolet, followed by Jimmy Hensley's Dodge Motorsports Dodge. -More
Ron Hornaday, handicapped by his third worst series start -- 24th -- advanced to sixth-place and wrested the NCTS point lead from Stacy Compton, whose Royal Crown Cola Dodge lost 39 laps behind pit wall and finished out of the top-four for the first time in 1999. Hornaday's lead, over Sprague, is 44 points. Compton, who finished 28th, dropped to third. Ron Barfield took the seventh position, the final driver to complete 189 laps. Rick Crawford, Jay Sauter and Butch Miller completed the top-10 finishers, each a lap off Wallace's pace. Mike Bliss won his second Bud Pole Award of the year, breaking his own PPIR standard with a lap of 132.827 mph. Harvick, however, won the drag race into the first turn and headed the first 33 laps, before the fifth-starting Sprague took the helm. Memphis 200 winner Greg Biffle led laps 57- 91 then pitted, giving the lead, successively, to Dennis Setzer and Bliss. After Harvick paced laps 94-106, it was an all-Sprague show -- until the final caution rang down the curtain early on what appeared a winning performance. "The fastest truck doesn't always win the race," said a dejected Sprague. Next event is Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 200 at I-70 Speedway east of Kansas City, Mo.