MADISON, IL (April 27, 2001) - Gateway International Raceway is a 1.25-mile tiger of a speedway that most drivers having trouble taming. Last year, Jack Sprague not only tamed the tiger - he drove it and the competitors in the Ram Tough 200 into...
MADISON, IL (April 27, 2001) - Gateway International Raceway is a 1.25-mile tiger of a speedway that most drivers having trouble taming. Last year, Jack Sprague not only tamed the tiger - he drove it and the competitors in the Ram Tough 200 into submission.
"We've dominated some races over the years, but the race at Gateway last year was a really great win for us," said Sprague, who led all but 15 of the 160 circuits in posting the impressive NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win. "Last year was a lot of fun, we really put it to them. We've always run well at Gateway since the Truck Series started going there, but last year was something special. It was very cool to have a truck run as well as that one did. I can't imagine us running any better and I can't imagine any reason why we can't go there and do it again."
Sprague would like nothing better than to repeat his 2000 Gateway performance. A victory in this year's Ram Tough 200 would be Sprague's first of the 2001 season and would also provide new sponsor NetZero Platinum with it's first-ever NCTS win. Additionally, Sprague would like to get back in the winner's circle, a fete that has been missing since last June 3 when he captured the Sears 200 at Evergreen, WA.
"We had a great start last season winning at Gateway, Memphis and Evergreen," said Sprague. "That was three wins in the first 10 races of the season and we were on top of the points. After that, the bottom kind of fell out and we didn't win the rest of the season. It's either been hit or miss for us so far this year. We had a great truck at Daytona (FL), one that could have easily won the race. Unfortunately, we crashed out. We followed that up with third at Homestead (FL) and a second at Bakersfield (CA) before engine problems bit us last time out at Martinsville. It's time to win a race again."
Last year at Gateway, pole sitter Greg Biffle led 15 of the first 22 laps before Sprague took the point on the 23rd circuit. Over the final 137 laps, Sprague showed the rest of the field little more than his tailgate leading every lap as he rolled to a 7.032-second victory and one of the most dominating wins by any driver during the 2000 NCTS campaign.
"Greg had a great truck, but our Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado was better, a lot better," said Sprague, who set race records of 113.726 miles per hour and a time of 1 hour, 45 minutes, 31 seconds last year. "In this business, you don't have many days like the one we had at Gateway last year. That's why you have to enjoy them while you can and we had a lot of fun at last year's race."
Most drivers have trouble finding the "fun" way around the tricky Gateway oval. According to the driver of the No. 24 NetZero Platinum Silverado, the unique high-speed oval is a challenge to even the most accomplished drivers.
"Gateway has kind of a weird layout," said Sprague. "It takes a whole different kind of chassis set-up to get around there because the corners on each end are totally different. One end is shaped like an egg, the other is pretty rounded and broad. It's completely different deal from one end to the other. You have to find a happy medium with your set-up and then be able to drive through it. Like I said, it's weird, but I love the place. It's just a matter of hitting the right set-up and we've done that at Gateway since day one. We should have won two or three races there, but we've only been able to come home with that one win so far. Maybe this year we can make it two in a row."
Sprague, who was fourth in the inaugural 1998 NCTS event at Gateway and third in 1999, knows it will be tough to repeat his victory from a year ago.
"I don't think we'll approach this race any differently than we have in the past," said Sprague. "It's the same every week. We want to win the race and if we can't do that, then we want to get the best finish that we can. That's always been the goal at Hendrick Motorsports and I think that's why we've been able to win two championships. It's that kind of attitude that will have us in the hunt for a win at Gateway this time and in the chase for our third championship this season."
Sprague, who is the only driver to compete in all 150 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events since the inception of the division in 1995, will take the green flag in the Ram Tough 200 at Gateway International Raceway Sunday, May 6, at 4 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time. The event will be telecast live on ESPN and will be broadcast by MRN radio.
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