SOUTH BOSTON, Va. - Jack Sprague likely figured he'd seen just about everything over two decades of competition. That is, until the ninth lap of Friday's NetZero 250 at South Boston Speedway. Sprague, off the Bud Pole, was leading the field...
SOUTH BOSTON, Va. - Jack Sprague likely figured he'd seen just about everything over two decades of competition. That is, until the ninth lap of Friday's NetZero 250 at South Boston Speedway.
Sprague, off the Bud Pole, was leading the field under the race's first caution for Ricky Sanders' lap seven spin in Turn 1. Sanders' Ford, however, suddenly lurched forward and down the narrow banking just as Sprague and the field motored past - slamming into the right front of the leader.
A couple of trips down pit road left Sprague 31st on the ensuing restart. Driving, in effect, his third truck after accidents during the previous day's test, Sprague ultimately settled for fourth place and added 10 points to his championship lead over Joe Ruttman.
Still, he was more than perplexed over the incident that possibly cost him his 24th series victory.
"I don't know what - that guy was doing," said Sprague. "He was spinning his tires backing up the race track and I go under him and he rolls right in front of me and nearly totals my truck. It knocked the toe off pretty bad and it knocked the fender off, obviously. Getting wrecked under the yellow kind of sucks."
Unlike on several other occasions, when bad luck cost Sprague in the points, this one didn't. He beat Ruttman by a spot and broke even with third-finishing Scott Riggs who didn't lead a lap for bonus points.
"We're in good shape (in the points)," he observed. "This was our biggest fear here. "
Sprague is the first NCTS driver to hold a point lead since mid-July, when Riggs led after races at Kentucky Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway.
The championship, however, remains tense with four races remaining. Sprague's 37 point advantage over Ruttman is the second closest in series history while the 162 spanning first and fifth is unprecedented following a season's 20th race.
The first nine drivers in series standings retain mathematical potential to win the title. Tenth-place Coy Gibbs, following a 12th-place finish, was eliminated.
A near capacity crowd packed South Boston Speedway on a cool, blustery fall evening. And they saw plenty of action - reminiscent of the series- last trip to a bullring, on Oct. 8, 1999 at Louisville Motor Speedway. In fact, the race's nine yellows claimed 77 laps of caution. The latter number was two more than the series record set - you guessed it - two years ago a LMS.
Ted Musgrave's winning average speed 53.796 made the NetZero 250 the second slowest race in series history. The record is 43.526 set April 15, 1995 at Saugus Speedway near Los Angeles.
Musgrave's fifth victory was No. 10 of 2001 for Ultra Motorsports. That matches the series record established by Roush Racing in 1999 when Greg Biffle won nine times and Mike Bliss once. This is the fifth season in which two drivers have won five or more victories but first time it's happened since 1998. Musgrave also is the fourth of the year to reach $400,000 in season winnings.
Speaking of Bliss, who went to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series following that season's final race, the Milwaukie, Ore veteran made a successful return on Friday. Bliss qualified his IWX Motor Freight Chevrolet third, ran there until being involved in a 133rd lap accident but regained a lost lap to finish ninth. The night also marked the return of Xpress Motorsports owner Steve Coulter. "Hopefully, we'll run well enough to get him pumped up so we can do a few more races," said Bliss.
Dodge, in clinching the NCTS manufacturer title, became the third truck maker to win the crown. Of interest, the championship has been claimed with a victory in five of the series' seven seasons. This year is the third earliest the issue has been settled.
The NetZero 250, with a margin of victory of .954, is the fourth consecutive race with a margin of less than one second. Ten of the 20 races have similar margins.
Many trucks in Friday's event carried patriotic paint schemes. Drivers and NASCAR officials wore American flag patches on their uniforms while Musgrave carried the flag around the track on his victory lap.
Morgan Shepherd, who failed to finish for the sixth time in 15 starts, was competitive for the first time. He took the lead on the 137th lap, when the field pitted, but held his own for a dozen laps when racing resumed. "We put a lot more into this race," said Shepherd, a former South Boston Speedway NASCAR Late Model Sportsman winner whose Ford is without sponsorship.
Shepherd, who comes to the track with just two helpers, got assistance from a pair of NCTS teams when he stopped on lap 161 - 20 laps before he was caught up in a five-truck pileup that ended the veteran's night. MacDonald Motorsports changed the tires on the No. 21 Ford while the Spears Motorsports tandem of Mark Blessing and Tim Clancy handled gassing duties.
The closest Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year battle was waged in 1998 when Greg Biffle and Andy Houston entered the season's final race less than 10 points apart. This year's race is even closer with Ricky Hendrick and Travis Kvapil tied at 258 points apiece with four races remaining. Hendrick is the nominal leader by virtue of his Kansas Speedway victory.
Hendrick posted a sixth-place finish at South Boston Speedway to Kvapil's eighth.