INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (July 30, 2001): It's just possible that Team Silverado, after a powerful 1-2-3-4 finish in New Hampshire, is getting back on track as the 2001 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series heads to Indianapolis Raceway Park on August...
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (July 30, 2001): It's just possible that Team Silverado, after a powerful 1-2-3-4 finish in New Hampshire, is getting back on track as the 2001 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series heads to Indianapolis Raceway Park on August 3 for round 15 of the 24-event series.
If one looked at the beginning of the season, with Dodge winning eight races in a row -- matching Chevrolet's 1995 record -- one might think that this was not Chevrolet's year. But, as the season gets knee-deep into its second half, it's probably wise to rethink that thought.
Here's why: First, two-time series champion, and the only driver to have competed in every Craftsman Truck race for Chevrolet since the series' inception in 1995, Jack Sprague, appears to have solved the mechanical problems his No. 24 NetZero Platinum Silverado has suffered in the first half, helping put Chevrolet back into the winner's circle -- twice!
In New Hampshire, Sprague was quickest in practice before setting a track record in qualifying. His fifth pole position of the year tied a career-best mark of five poles in a season set in 1997. Sprague has not qualified out of the top-10 in 14 events this season, posting a 3.92 qualifying average along the way. He has also not qualified out of the top-three in the last six events, winning four poles while posting a 1.66 average qualifying mark.
Sprague is second to Ron Hornaday in career wins, with 21 to Hornaday's 25.
Chevrolet's sweep of the top four places matched the carmaker's last similar sweep at Gateway International Raceway (Madison, Ill.) in 1998. Chevrolet has claimed the top five spots twice, and a spectacular 1-through-6 sweep just once, at The Milwaukee Mile in 1997.
Second, the chase for the series' driver's championship has seriously narrowed to 11 points among the top three: Scott Riggs, Joe Ruttman (both in Dodges) and Jack Sprague. Sprague, who thought he'd be out of the running after what he considered to be a dismal early season, is right in the thick of the battle -- thanks to nine top-10s, eight top-fives and the perseverance of his Hendrick Motorsports team and longtime crew chief Dennis Connor.
"It's pretty amazing we're that close to the front considering all the bad luck we've had this season," Sprague said in New Hampshire. "We've just been fighting to get things turned around and gain in the points race. We were able to do that today and now it's a horse race down to the wire over the final 10 events. Our goal every season is to win the championship. If we can continue to run and finish like we did today, I like our chances of winning the championship a lot."
Third, rookies Travis Kvapil and Ricky Hendrick are in the midst of a fierce battle for the Rookie-of-the-Year championship, helping Chevrolet gain even more top spots as the pair duke it out each weekend.
Not only is this duo vying for the rookie crown, the boys are also in the hunt for the overall driver's championship, with Hendrick holding on to fourth in points, just 51 away from Sprague, and Kvapil right behind in fifth, 11 points back of Hendrick.
Kvapil, in the No. 60 Cat Rental Stores Silverado, has 10 top-10 finishes so far, including three runner-up finishes, and is looking for his first win. He replaced Andy Houston this year, and enjoys the expertise of Addington Racing and crew chief Rick Ren, who are no strangers to making their Silverados reliable and dependable on the racetrack. The team has earned Chevrolet's "Like a Rock" award two years straight for completing the most laps in a season, and lead the standings at this point of the 2001 season.
"I've been able to kind of step in and pick up where Andy Houston left off with this team," said Kvapil. "Hopefully I can get into the win column here soon, and complete some of the goals that we had set at the beginning of the year. It's been tough going to all these new racetracks and trying to learn them right away and be able to get information back to the team. It's kind of surprising, but at the same time it's kind of what we expected to do."
Hendrick, driver of the No. 17 GMAC Silverado and son of Winston Cup team owner Rick Hendrick, who also owns Ricky's team, has one victory this year, his first in the series, 13 top-10 finishes and seven top-fives.
Fourth, Dennis Setzer, in the No. 46 Acxiom/Computer Associates Silverado, has proved to be a strong contender this year, his first in a Silverado, with a win in Memphis, a pole in Kansas, and seven top-10 finishes. He joins other strong Silverado racers Randy Tolsma (No. 60 Team Rensi Silverado), Coy Gibbs (No. 20 MBNA Silverado), among others, with the potential of placing their Silverados in the winner's circle on any given weekend.
Don't count Chevrolet out just yet. Remember, Chevrolet is still the winningest manufacturer in the series with 84 wins in 160 races, 33 more than second-place Ford, and has four wins this season. Chevrolet also tops the charts with most poles won, 67. While the manufacturer's championship is still led by Dodge (114), Chevy is just 20 points behind (94), while Ford trails with 58.
Check out the next race: the Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Friday, August 3, at 8 p.m. EDT. It will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast worldwide on MRN Radio.