Sprague beat gremlins to win New England 200

By Thomas Chemris Loudon, N.H. The NASAR Craftsman truck series visited the New Hampshire International Speedway for the sixth time since the series inception. Before a crowd of 51,000, Pole sitter Jack Sprague dominated to score his first win...

By Thomas Chemris

Loudon, N.H.

The NASAR Craftsman truck series visited the New Hampshire International Speedway for the sixth time since the series inception. Before a crowd of 51,000, Pole sitter Jack Sprague dominated to score his first win at the Magic Mile.

Sprague was off to an early lead running unchallenged building up a two second lead within the first twenty laps. Several trucks made significant moves through the field including Winston Cup driver Ken Schrader who started eleventh and worked his way up to fourth.

Mechanical attrition took its toll on the field as four tucks retired early, bringing their machines in the garage area before the tenth lap. Dale Shaw, Phil Bonefield, Larry Gunselman, and Jonathan Price all ended the weekend early for problems involving transmissions and ignition.

Many of the trucks had handling problems prior to the first pit stop. Some of the difficulty may be attributed to the recent re-sealing of the track. Many drivers applauded the improvements, however some expressed concern about the developing of a second groove. The preferred line at the track is to run high out of the turns. There was concern that trucks getting out of line would experience slick track conditions.

This was evident on lap 49 as series point leader Scott Riggs spun his truck in turn one while running in the second position. Riggs did a masterful Job keeping the truck from making hard contact, but the incident was enough to bring out the first caution of the event.

Riggs, remaining on the lead lap, was shuffled back to 15th after pit stops, but had to respond to a black flag by NASCAR officials. The No. 2 ASA truck then made a lengthy stop behind the wall as crewmembers repaired a rear brake bracket and a broken track bar. Loosing 21 laps this placed Riggs well at the back of the field. The incident marks only the third time in the series 14 races that Riggs has failed to finish in the top ten.

Restarting on lap 54, the field quickly strung out. Again, the 24 truck of Jack Sprague dominated, Travis Kvapil gained positions to run a strong second not allowing Sprague to show the dominance of the first fuel run.

Closing into the halfway mark the field continued string out until the second caution of the day flew on lap 91 as Jerry Hill laid fluid down in turns one and two. The leaders pitted, all taking left side tires, and returned to the track with no change in the lead.

The caution came too late for series veteran Rick Crawford who during the caution pulled the Milwaukee power tools Ford behind the wall after loosing a cylinder.

When the green came back out, the trucks continued on maintaining a one-grove single file race with sporadic battle on the straight-aways for positions third through tenth.

The third caution of the day flew on lap 106 as Kentucky's Brian Rose entered turn one too hot, and made hard contact with the turn two wall.

Randy Tolsma and Ted Musgrave, were the only lead lap trucks to pit during the caution. Musgrave gave up a top five position to take tires and top off the tank, but the surprise stop would not be enough to finish the race on fuel.

Sprague continued to dominate, with only Travis Kvapil's truck remaining in striking distance within a second of the race leader.

Fuel mileage became a factor late in the event as with fifty laps remaining, not one of the trucks was in a position to complete the race without stopping.

The first of the leaders to hit pit road for a green flag stop was the #60 truck of Kvapil who gave up his second position to take right side tires and fuel, regulating him back to the thirteenth position, a lap down.

Kvapil got his lap back on lap 159 as the leader Jack Sprague came in giving the lead to teammate Ricky Hendrick.

Strategy came in to play in the closing pit stops as the top five drivers pitted. Kenny Schrader, Terry cook, and Ted Musgrave declined fresh rubber and short pitted for fuel only. Hedrick held the point until lap 175, when he stopped for a gas and go giving the lead to Dennis Setzer.

Setzer led for a lap, before coming in, returning the cycle to Jack Sprague, who resumed the lead on lap 178. Sprague had cycled through the Sstops to build up a ten second lead.

However, the lead dwindled as Scott Riggs cut down a right front tire leaving debris on the track bringing out the fourth and final caution of the day which set the stage for a Saturday afternoon shootout.

Restarting on lap 193, Sprague pulled ahead of the second place truck of Kvapil to win the New England 200 by a margin of ten truck lengths

Sprague who has been denied victory several times this season due to late race mechanical failures beat the gremlins to take home the victory for Hendrick Motor sports.

"Once again, Dennis Connor (crew chief) and the guys gave me a great truck.  Man, I tell you, the last eight-nine races that thing has been that good, and it ha dominated that hard and we just haven't been able to finish.  He (Dennis) told me he had it figured out.  He had the problem fixed.  It was nothing the motor guys were doing.  It was a problem under the hood of the truck, the heat and where it was going.  I trust him with my life.  I have for the last seven years.  Rick Hendrick gives me great stuff, and so does Chevrolet.  Everybody does a great job.  I can't thank them enough.  I can't thank Dennis enough.  This does not make up for all the races we have given away, but it sure feels a lot better than it did last week.  Dennis told me I was going to win and I believed him,"  stated Sprague.

The two time series Champion holds the distinction to be the only competitor to have competed in every Craftsman truck series event since its inception. The veteran remains third in the points race, eight points behind second place Joe Ruttman and eleven behind the current leader Scott Riggs.

Second was Wisconsin native Travis Kvapil. Explaining his pit strategy, "We were pretty lucky, we had a tire going down, so we had to come in, we last a lot of time on the track to the 24 because of it. We were pretty even all day." The Wisconsin native enjoyed the best finish of his career as he maintains the fifth position in the championship point's race, 11 points behind fourth place Ricky Hendrick. "I ran it that way about two laps and I didn't even know if the truck's handling was going away or if I had a problem.  That cost us a good five, six seconds on the racetrack.  But Jack had great tires all day and he had the truck to beat.  I could run with him, but we really didn't have anything for him," said Kvapil.

Third was Dennis Setzer, who was pleased with his run.  "We started 15th and we kind ofjust picked our way through.  We had a pretty good truck yesterday in happy hour.  We weren't as fast as some of the guys, but some of them had new tires.  We just kept plugging along all day."

Finishing fourth was Sprague's teammate, Ricky Hendrick who won his first race of the series in Kansas City. "The team GMAC Chevrolet Silverado was really good today.  We struggled with some of the practices and with qualifying, but the team made some good changes and we were fast today.  Congratulations to Jack.  If Team GMAC doesn't win, I always hope Team Net Zero does win," said Hendrick.

Ted Musgrave rounded out the top five "We struggled today, we just did not have the down force we needed to run up front."

Winston cup regular Bobby Hamilton competed in the event. The Driver and truck team owner qualified on the outside pole, crashed the truck in happy hour and was forced to use his back-up truck, regulating him to the back of the field. Hamilton never seemed to find the handle, went a lap down early, and eventually retired the truck on lap 159 citing handling problems.

The Other Cup series drivers in the event were Stacy Compton and Ken Schrader. Compton who ran in the top ten all day before running out of gas on lap 176, causing him to loose several positions, rebounded and finished ninth. Schrader ran strong all day and finished 7th.

The point's battle in the truck series is the tightest in the top NASCAR series' as 73 points separate the top five positions.

The time of the event was one hour and fifty-six minutes There were    .
three lead changes among three drivers A total of four cautions for a  .
total of 19 laps Jack Sprague won the event by a margin of .092 sec    .

The series is off next week and then heads to Indianapolis Raceway Park for the Power Stroke Diesel 200 on August 3rd.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Stacy Compton , Ted Musgrave , Ricky Hendrick , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Larry Gunselman , Brian Rose , Rick Crawford , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Jonathan Price , Randy Tolsma , Travis Kvapil