RICHMOND, Va. - Jack Sprague might have paraphrased the pilot's description of flying in characterizing Thursday night's Kroger 200 victory as being 190 laps of boredom and 10 of sheer terror. Sprague had toyed with his NASCAR Craftsman Truck ...
RICHMOND, Va. - Jack Sprague might have paraphrased the pilot's description of flying in characterizing Thursday night's Kroger 200 victory as being 190 laps of boredom and 10 of sheer terror.
Sprague had toyed with his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series opponents after taking the lead from Bud Pole starter Dennis Setzer on the second lap around Richmond International Raceway's .75- mile layout. He built leads of more than seven seconds and appeared to be off the hook when championship rival Scott Riggs - Sprague's strongest adversary - fell off the pace with a trip into the second turn wall on lap 167.
The yellow flag flew for the sixth and final time, offering Sprague the opportunity to change the 100-lap-old right side tires on his NetZero Platinum Chevrolet. In fact, that's exactly what crew chief Dennis Connor suggested but Sprague said no - and it nearly cost him his 23rd NCTS victory.
By the 190th lap, Sprague found his handling gone awry and his truck literally stopping between turns one and two. Kevin Harvick, making his first start on the series since October 1999, quickly closed on the stricken Sprague - along with Ted Musgrave and Setzer.
Harvick fought his way into the lead on lap 195 as Sprague was blocked by a lapped truck. Sprague, however, battled back in lapped traffic off Turn 2 to regain the advantage a lap later, only to lose it again - to Musgrave - on lap 197.
Sprague nosed ahead of Musgrave once more, again in Turn 2, to head lap S198 as Harvick and etzer shuffled Musgrave's Mopar Performance Dodge Sback to fourth-place.
Harvick, truly up on the wheel of his Twizzler/PayDay/Sonic Chevrolet as the white flag waved, dove inside Sprague in Turn 3 and drew alongside as the pair hit the start-finish stripe. Like Geoffrey Bodine to Terry Labonte in 1995, Harvick saw his bid for a first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory fall inches short.
Sprague prevailed for the fourth time in 2001, by 0.062 second. Setzer, whose ACXIOM/Computer Associates Chevrolet took tires on lap 156, finished third. Musgrave, Rick Crawford, Stacy Compton and Bobby Hamilton followed, each completing 200 laps.
Raybestos Rookie Ricky Hendrick finished eighth, trailed by Joe Ruttman and Billy Bigley, each a lap behind the winner.
Sprague, who won $36,735, averaged 95.711 mph and leapfrogged past Ruttman and Riggs to take the series championship lead with five races remaining. Trailing Ruttman by 20 points entering the season's 19th event, Sprague now is up by 27 over Ruttman. Riggs, who finished 14th, is 57 back.
"If I had to do it again, I'd take Dennis' advice and take rights," admitted Sprague, who added, "of course everyone else would have followed me down pit road. The last 20 laps were rather ugly. The last 40 laps I had no rubber left."
That forced Sprague into the track's upper groove, leaving the door open for Musgrave and, finally, Harvick. That's when the beating and banging started - although nothing that might have been considered a cheap shot.
"I knew Kevin wanted to win it awful bad but when you bump, you gotta take it, too," said Sprague who became the first repeat NCTS winner at Richmond.
Harvick agreed. "I probably could have turned up and dumped (Sprague) but he's running for a championship," he noted. "We just gave it what we had and tried to beat him back all fair and square. It was an awesome night."
The night had been awesome - but mostly for Sprague.
Setzer, with his second Bud Pole of the season, led the 36-truck pack to the green but gave Sprague no argument over the No. 1 spot on lap two. Crawford, from sixth, moved past Terry Cook, Harvick, Riggs and Setzer to gain the second spot on lap 16.
Lance Norick and J.D. Gibbs tangled on the backstretch to trigger the race's first caution on lap 20. The yellow waved again on lap 31, when Kyle Busch spun his Eldon Ford through the tri-oval grass. Rick Carelli, the first of several drivers to slam the Turn 2-exit wall, slowed for a caution on lap 70 and that brought the leaders into the pits. Bobby Dotter waited a lap to pit to lead for the first time in 2001.
Crawford's Milwaukee Electric Tool Ford lost ground on the exchange, falling to sixth behind Sprague, Riggs, Setzer, Travis Kvapil and Musgrave. Harvick, Compton, Hamilton and Cook comprised the first 10 when competition resumed on lap 74.
Ruttman's DANA Corporation Dodge fell off the pace with engine woes and was lapped on the 118th lap. A gritty Crawford clawed his way back into second-place, past Setzer, on lap 130 with Raybestos Rookie Kvapil - who started 22nd third at lap 134.
Sprague was up by more than seven seconds when the rear end of Rodney Sawyer's Dodge let go on lap 142. Sprague, Crawford, Riggs, Kvapil and Harvick comprised the top five after tire stops with Setzer sixth after a near collision with Riggs on pit road.
When Matt Crafton cut down a right front tire and hit the Turn 3 wall on lap 154, Setzer, Musgrave and Compton elected to pit again while the other leaders held track position. Riggs suffered misfortune a few laps later, followed by Kvapil's Turn 2 wall-slapper, on lap 183, which didn't draw a yellow but nearly collected Harvick and Musgrave.
That's when Harvick began his charge to the front with Musgrave and Setzer in tow.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday's Silverado 350 in Fort Worth. Sprague won the season's first event at TMS in June.