CLERMONT, IN (July 26, 2001) - To say the 1998 Cummins 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park wasn't Jack Sprague's most popular victory is probably an understatement. "The fans wanted to come out of the grandstands and kill me after that race at IRP...
CLERMONT, IN (July 26, 2001) - To say the 1998 Cummins 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park wasn't Jack Sprague's most popular victory is probably an understatement.
"The fans wanted to come out of the grandstands and kill me after that race at IRP in 1998," said Sprague. "It was a pretty good race. Ron Hornaday and I got into it late in the race and it was a great show for the fans. Fortunately, I was able to win. Unfortunately, some of the fans didn't like the fact that I won and Ron didn't."
Sprague's win in the 1998 IRP event is typical of the NASCAR 'beating' and bangin' that has characterized the .686-mile Clermont oval since the Truck Series debuted there in 1995. Only Mike Skinner, who won the first two events, has been able to score more than one NCTS victory at the track. That's something that Sprague, who is coming of a win in the last event on the tour - the New England 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway (7/21) - would like to change.
"I want to win every race we enter," said Sprague, who is second to Hornaday's 25 career wins with 21 NCTS victories. "We have had trucks good enough to win six or seven races this season, but we've had problems that prevented that. We totally wore them out at New Hampshire and I'd like nothing better than to do that again at IRP."
Sprague and his No. 24 NetZero Platinum Chevrolet didn't just wear out the competition at New Hampshire - they pulverized it. The 36-year-old Spring Lake, MI driver topped the speed charts in practice before setting a new track record in qualifying. The pole position, his fifth of the season, 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. Additionally, Sprague has not qualified out of the Top-3 in the last six events winning four poles while posting a 1.66 average qualifying mark. For the record, Sprague has never won a pole at IRP.
Sprague's dominant NHIS time trial run was nothing compared to his performance in the New England 200 leading all but 17 of the 200 laps contested. The only time Sprague gave up the lead was when he pitted under green at Lap 160. To accomplish the same kind of dominance at IRP, Sprague knows he will have to master the track's tricky layout.
"Most tracks are run on the bottom, but at IRP, you run around the top," Sprague stated. "You run up against the wall almost all the way around the track and you have to be very careful you don't get into the wall. It's a lot of fun and a very challenging track."
In addition to his 1998 win, Sprague has been up to the challenge at IRP finishing second in both the 1996 and 1997 events. In 2000, Sprague appeared to be in a position for another top finish and possibly a win when bad luck hit his Hendrick Motorsports Silverado.
"We've been good at IRP every year," said Sprague, who eventually came home 17th. "Last year, we were running second and got a flat tire with 15 laps to go. That might have been another win for us. I love IRP. It's a half-mile track that produces a lot of good racing. It has kind of weird groove, but it's one of those places that we've hit on a setup and always seem to run well there. We love to go there."
Sprague, the 1997 and 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, is currently third in the 2001 standings, just 11 markers out of the first place. Sprague will have his sights firmly set on moving into the top spot when the Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park takes the green flag at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Friday, August 3. The event will be televised live on ESPN and broadcast worldwide on MRN Radio.