Richmond race report

RICHMOND, Va. - Redemption is sweet but no more so than Rick Carelli's nail-biting victory in Thursday night's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 200 at Richmond International Raceway. Carelli erased a barrel-full of demons as...

RICHMOND, Va. - Redemption is sweet but no more so than Rick Carelli's nail-biting victory in Thursday night's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Kroger 200 at Richmond International Raceway. Carelli erased a barrel-full of demons as he withstood 20 laps of intense pressure from Bud Pole winner Kurt Busch and - on the checkered flag lap - series point leader Greg Biffle to capture his fourth victory of a 124-race career. The 44-year-old Denver driver, who suffered what, at the time, appeared to be career-ending head injuries May 8, 1999 at Memphis Motorsports Park, completed his long road back to victory circle and, in the process, gave Phelon Motorsports its first NCTS triumph in the unsponsored team's 101st start. Appropriately, perhaps, Carelli gunned his Ford's engine into oblivion as he spun doughnuts on the 0.75-mile track's tri-oval. The team had suffered through eight DNFs in its first 19 events of the campaign. "Last year (recovering from his injuries), there were doubts in my mind," said 10th-starting Carelli. "The first thing was, 'I've had a good racing career and, if this is it, this is it.' But when I won (in the Copper World Classic) at Phoenix, you know that it can happen. "I had so much emotion when I got the checkered flag. I just can't explain it." Biffle, who out-raced his Roush Racing partner to the line by several feet, finished a half-second - about five truck lengths - back in the Grainger Ford. Busch's Exide Batteries F-150 that led four times for 102 laps settled for third ahead of Joe Ruttman's DANA Corporation Dodge and the Royal Crown Cola Dodge of rookie Scott Riggs. Jack Sprague, Ken Schrader, Dennis Setzer, Steve Grissom and Bobby Hamilton completed the top-10 as 15 drivers among 28 finishers posted all 200 laps. Carelli averaged 98.684 mph making the Kroger 200 the second-fastest series race run at Richmond International Raceway. Five caution periods consumed just 28 laps and only a single driver, No. 2 qualifier Randy Tolsma, was knocked out by accident. Tolsma, who led the 72nd lap, went to the garage after contact with Hermie Sadler sent the CITGO SUPERGARD Dodge into the Turn 4 wall just past the race's halfway point. Based on the event's first half, Busch had victory nailed. Tolsma slipped by to lead the 72nd circuit and Jamie McMurray took the point between laps 78 and 83 when his TKO Motorsports crew elected not to pit his Dodge under the event's second caution. The tables turned, however, on lap 106 - after Tolsma's accident - when eight drivers disdained service, leaving Biffle, Busch, Sprague and Carelli buried in the field on the restart. Ruttman, fast but never a challenger to Busch, spent the next 61 laps out front, trailed by Elliott Sadler who'd worked his way up from the 22nd starting position before suffering engine failure 22 serials shy of the finish. Carelli caught Busch for second-place on lap 159 to trail Ruttman by 2.3 seconds and, after a brief battle with Sprague, ran down the leader eight circuits later as the pair exited Turn 2. B.A. Wilson slammed the Turn 3 wall to bring out the final caution on lap 168, sending the leaders - excepting Dennis Setzer -- down pit road for the final time. Busch won the battle back to reentry and passed Setzer on lap 176 but Carelli wasn't finished, measuring the rookie-of-the-year leader in the third turn of the 180th lap. The two ran nose-to-tail and side-by-side for the next 16 laps before Biffle chased down both. Carelli's salvation was that the two Roush drivers began racing each other and, by the time Biffle had picked up the faster, outside groove, the final lap was in the books. "Another half lap," was Biffle's estimation of the distance he needed to defend last year's Kroger 200 victory. "I was riding most of the race just trying to stay out of trouble and save my tires the best I could," noted Biffle, whose NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point lead reached a record, 252 points over 15th finishing Mike Wallace. Handling perhaps more than Carelli's determination doomed Busch's chances. "We had a great set of tires to start off the race," he said. "We just lost a little bit of the handle there at the end and go a little loose. I just couldn't handle through the corners as well as Carelli." Carelli's win ended a 22-race gap since his Mesa Marin Raceway victory of April 10, 1999. He's now won in four different campaigns: 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. "The guys in the pits gave me great stops tonight and gave me the chance to win," said Carelli of the John Monsam-led crew. Monsam captured his second series victory, the first coming with Ron Hornaday and Dale Earnhardt Inc. at Tucson, Ariz. on March 1, 1997. "The truck ... was really good on long runs. I think, as a team, we have really come together." Next event for the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series is the Sept. 22 inaugural visit to Dover Downs International Speedway for the MBNA

-Owen Kearns

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Hamilton , Ken Schrader , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Hermie Sadler , Rick Carelli , Steve Grissom