SPARTA, KY (July 14, 2001) - All the money in the world couldn't make Jack Sprague feel better after the Kroger 225 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday. Sprague saw certain victory elude his No. 24 NetZero Platinum Chevrolet when his truck ...
SPARTA, KY (July 14, 2001) - All the money in the world couldn't make Jack Sprague feel better after the Kroger 225 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday.
Sprague saw certain victory elude his No. 24 NetZero Platinum Chevrolet when his truck suffered an engine problem while leading with just eight laps remaining in the event. Sprague was able to hang on for a third-place finish behind Scott Riggs and Joe Ruttman and in the process, become the first driver in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history to eclipse the $4 million in career earnings.
"We got the lead with 10 or so laps to go and right after that, the engine lost a cylinder," said Sprague. "I raced the last seven or eight laps on seven cylinders and still managed to finish third. That's a lot better than last week, but man, I just can't catch a break. We've had so many races won this year and to have this happen again is tough, really tough."
Sprague was tough on the competition from the get go posting the fastest laps in Friday's practice. The Spring Lake, MI driver continued his torrid qualifying pace winning his fourth Bud Pole of the season with a lap of 32.313 seconds (167.115 miles per hour) on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval. The top effort marked Sprague's third pole in the last five races, a span in which he has posted a 1.8 qualifying average and has qualified no worse than third. In 13 events this season, Sprague has not qualified out of the Top-10 and has a 4.15 qualifying average. The top Kentucky qualifying effort marked Sprague's 17 career pole position, an NCTS record.
At the drop of the green flag, Sprague bolted to the lead and paced the early laps before Ted Musgrave took over the point. For the next 100 circuits, the two veteran drivers waged a war at the front of the pack taking turns pacing the action. That all came to an abrupt end on Lap 116 when Musgrave tangled with a lapped truck and crashed out of the event.
"Teddy was real good," said Sprague. "He gave me a real run for my money. We swapped the lead back and forth early in the race. First he'd lead, then I'd lead. It was fun racing him. My NetZero Platinum Chevy was great, but I could feel I was blistering the left-front tire, so I backed off pretty good. He kind of got away from me, but then he wrecked. I thought it would be smooth sailing after that."
A series of pit stops and caution periods over the next 20 circuits scrambled the standings putting Riggs in the lead and Sprague second with just 17 laps to go. Sprague quickly motored by and appeared to be on a guided cruise to Victory Lane when his engine began to misfire with just eight laps remaining. With Sprague slowing dramatically, Riggs again swept by only to have the caution flag fly one final time setting up a three-lap dash to the finish.
"When the green, white, checkered deal happened, I thought I was dead meat," said Sprague. "I figured I would end up ninth (the number of trucks finishing on the lead lap), but I was able to run better than I thought in the corners and I could block a little bit on the straights. Joe (Ruttman) was able to get by me for second, but at least we were able to get third out of it."
The solid finish, despite the problem, kept Sprague third in the 2001 NCTS championship chase, 105 markers behind leader Riggs. Sprague also collected $37,415 in prize money making him the first $4 million man in series history.
"We've been running in front all year long and when we get through this stretch of bad luck, we're going to win our share of races," said Sprague. "It's nice that we passed the $4 million in earnings, but that's not why we do this. We do it to win races. We'll just go on to New Hampshire next week and try to turn it around there."
The New England 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway will take the green flag at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Saturday, July 21, and will be telecast live on ESPN. MRN Radio will also broadcast the 14th of 24 NCTS events this season.