BAKERSFIELD, CA (March 17, 2001) - Heading into the final laps of the OSH 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, Jack Sprague was battling a worn out set of tires and a trying to hold off a pack or snarling competitors. "I thought I...
BAKERSFIELD, CA (March 17, 2001) - Heading into the final laps of the OSH 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, Jack Sprague was battling a worn out set of tires and a trying to hold off a pack or snarling competitors.
"I thought I was going to run third at best," said Sprague. "My tires were pretty shot and the guys around me were coming hard. Before that last yellow, I thought we were in trouble. I never thought we'd wind up second."
Sprague earned the runner-up finish powering his NetZero Chevrolet Silverado past Brendan Gaughn with just two laps remaining. It was an improbable end to a wild day on the Mesa Marin Raceway half-mile oval for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
"I figured the best shot I had was to get outside Brendan and keep everyone else off of me," Sprague stated. "About the only option I had was to guard the outside. Joe Ruttman almost got by me on the outside before the last yellow flag. On the last restart, I got up on the outside and my truck surprised me. It was pretty quick up there. I tried the top groove 10 laps earlier and I really struggled. I was pretty surprised I was able to get up there and drive away from Brendan at the finish."
Sprague started the NCTS event of the tight Bakersfield half-mile oval from the seventh position and quickly moved into the Top-5 by the third circuit. The 36-year-old Spring Lake, MI native continued his march to the front eventually taking over the runner-up spot behind Ruttman on Lap 53.
"When they dropped the green flag, my NetZero Chevy was really good," said Sprague. "It was just as good as it was the night before in Happy Hour. Early in the race, I knew we would have something for them today."
While the rest of the field began their normal pit cycle for tires and fuel, Ruttman and Sprague stayed on the track dueling for the lead until Sprague finally pitted for right-side rubber and a splash of gas on Lap 119.
"We changed rights and immediately got tight," said Sprague. "My truck didn't want to turn in the corners at all. Fortunately, we didn't have to drive it that way too long because we got another quick caution and pitted for left-side tires. That put the balance of the truck back to where it belonged and we were able to drive back toward the front."
With 100 laps remaining, Sprague was 11th in the running order. Slowly but surely, he worked he way through the field getting back to fifth before pitting again on Lap 170.
"It was my call to take left-side tires again on our last stop," said Sprague. "I was afraid we were going to get tight again if we took rights. I didn't want that to happen."
Now fourth with 50 circuits remaining, Sprague hoped a long green-flag run to the finish would help him reel in leaders Ted Musgrave and Gaughn. Unfortunately, five yellow flags over the final laps slowed the action and Sprague had to settle for battling Gaughn for the runner-up spot while Musgrave rolled to score his second straight NCTS victory of the season.
"We just couldn't get around the corners as well as we wanted to at the finish," said Sprague. "I had more than 120 laps on my right-side tires and I just didn't have enough grip to get up to and by Ted. He was good on tires early in the run and then he would fall off pretty good late in the run. I needed 10-12 green flag laps to get going. I was hoping Ted's tires would fall off some more and we'd be able to catch him. All those yellow flags at the end allowed him to cool his tires down. He was quicker on the short spurts. We needed a long run at the finish and it just didn't happen."
Sprague earned $22,475 for the solid finish, his second-straight Top-5 after a third-place finish in the most recent event at Homestead, FL. It was also Sprague's 118th Top-10 effort in 149 NCTS career starts and boosted him into a third-place tie in the standings with Musgrave and Ricky Hendrick, just 23 markers out of the top spot.
"It was a good points day for us," said Sprague, who has never finished out of the Top-10 in seven Bakersfield NCTS starts. "It's getting a little frustrating not to win, especially considering we've been running so well. This NetZero team is doing a great job giving me good trucks. Sooner or later, we're going to win one of these things again."
Next up for Sprague and the NetZero Chevrolet will be another short-track test, this one on the Martinsville (VA) Speedway half-mile. The Advance Auto Parts 250 will take the green flag Saturday, April 7 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time and will be telecast live on ESPN.