FORT WORTH - A night on which two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors achieved long-sought goals was tempered by the death of a third at Texas Motor Speedway. Bryan Reffner, who carried a 111-race winless streak - longest in series...
FORT WORTH - A night on which two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors achieved long-sought goals was tempered by the death of a third at Texas Motor Speedway.
Bryan Reffner, who carried a 111-race winless streak - longest in series history - into Friday's O'Reilly 400, surged past Andy Houston with seven laps remaining to give first-year owner John Menard his first NASCAR victory.
Reffner's success mirrored that of Greg Biffle, who locked up his first series title despite a mid- race accident that left the Grainger Ford team with a 25th-place finish - by far the worst of the 2000 season.
Biffle clinched the first NASCAR championship for Roush Racing when rival Mike Wallace's Team ASE Racing Ford suffered a clutch-related failure on the starting grid and was many laps behind when the veteran driver finally rolled onto the track. Wallace, second for most of the season, dropped to fourth- place in the standings behind Biffle's teammate, Kurt Busch, and Houston.
"Winning the championship, especially after finishing so close (eight points behind) last year really means a lot for us," said Biffle who was joined in the post-race celebration by owner Jack Roush. A pair of high-speed accidents, however, ultimately overshadowed the results. The first, a 10- truck melee, was triggered by Chad Chaffin's eLink/Mobil Max2 Chevrolet that spun out of control in Turn 2 on the race's second lap. All of the involved drivers were uninjured.
On lap 32, Tony Roper's Mittler Tool Ford caromed off the left-front fender of Steve Grissom's Dodge and slammed head-on into the outside wall between Turn 4 and the start-finish stripe. Roper was airlifted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas where the popular, 35-year-old Missouri competitor succumbed to complications of neck trauma the following morning, 15 hours after the accident. Roper, who was competing in his 60th series event, was the second driver killed in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. John Nemechek died of head injuries in March 1997 after an accident at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Reffner, one of two drivers to post the tour's first 180 mph-plus laps, sat on the Bud Pole but - following a slow pit stop on the 81st lap - was forced to battle his way back from 12th-place where he restarted after the event's third caution.
He was up to the task, however, moving back into the top-five with 25 laps to go. The last of seven caution periods, when Wallace's engine expired in Turn 1, sent leader Busch to pit road for left side tires. That left Houston and Reffner one-two when green waved on the 155th serial.
Reffner methodically closed the gap and, on the 161st lap, slipped under Houston's CAT Rental Store Chevrolet entering Turn 3. Houston, en route to his fifth consecutive top-10 finish at TMS, faded to trail by 1.277 seconds - about five truck lengths - at the finish.
The victory was worth $70,485 plus a Craftsman-sponsored $10,000 bonus check for winning from the Bud Pole. Reffner, whose previous best finish on tour came in 1998 when he finished third at Flemington, N.J., averaged 112.933 mph in the second-slowest NCTS event at TMS.
"We got our first top-five with this team here at the (Pronto Auto Parts 400) here in the spring and it's a good place for momentum," said Reffner who drove last year's O'Reilly 400-winning Silverado then campaigned by Richard Childress Racing and driven by Jay Sauter. "I guess Texas likes me and I like Texas and I hope as far as the team goes, the momentum won't stop here in the ability to win races.
"I don't have much credit out there in the last couple of years and I knew I needed people that wouldn't doubt ... that if we struggled for a few races they wouldn't doubt me."
The victory also was the first for crew chief and longtime Reffner confidant Les Back. The O'Reilly 400 was the debut for Team Menard's in-house engine program tended by Butch Meyer.
Busch's Exide Batteries Ford finished a solid third, passing a valiant Jimmy Hensley for the position as the pair took the white flag. Hensley's eLink/Mobil Max2 Chevrolet was fourth with Dennis Setzer, a former Texas winner, fifth in the Mopar Performance Dodge. Rick Crawford, handicapped by a start of 29th, finished sixth ahead of Randy Tolsma, Ricky Hendrick, Rick Carelli and Mark Petty. The latter posted the first top-10 finish of his six-race NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career. Twelve of the event's 21 finishers completed all 167 laps. The 13th-place truck of rookie Rick Ware was three laps off the pace.
Six different drivers - Reffner, Houston, Busch, Biffle, Jack Sprague and outside front row starter David Starr traded the lead 15 times. Sprague, who exited in a 115th-lap accident, led the most laps - 54 - but wound up with his first, back-to-back DNFs in 145 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series appearances. Biffle also came to grief in the second corner. Lying just outside the top-five on lap 80, the F-150 abruptly broke loose and, before Biffle could recover, shot into the wall. Ironically, Biffle had spun in the same place during Thursday night's "happy hour" but didn't make contact with anything. "It just got away from me," said Biffle who complained of sore ribs after the accident that ended a streak of 21 consecutive finishes by the 2000 champion.
The season's final event, the Motorola 200, will take place Oct. 28 at California Speedway near Los Angeles where Sprague is looking for his third consecutive victory at the two-mile superspeedway.
<pre> The results: Bud Pole - Bryan Reffner, Chevrolet, 29.938 seconds, 180.373 mph (record, old, Jay Sauter, 179.718, 1999) Failed to qualify: Morgan Shepherd, Ford; Bobby Dotter, Chevrolet; Wayne Edwards, Chevrolet; Ron Barfield, Ford; Carl Long, Chevrolet; Jay Stewart, Chevrolet; Richie Hearn, Chevrolet; Gene Christensen, Chevrolet O'Reilly 400 (167laps)-- 1. (1)Bryan Reffner, Chevrolet, 167, 112.993 mph, $70,485; 2. (6)Andy Houston, Chevrolet, 167, $41,625; 3. (4)Kurt Busch, Ford, 167, $29,805; 4. (17)Jimmy Hensley, Chevrolet, 167, $18,000; 5. (10)Dennis Setzer, Dodge, 167, $13,505; 6. (29)Rick Crawford, Ford, 167, $11,100; 7. (20)Randy Tolsma, Dodge, 167, $10,475; 8. (8)Ricky Hendrick, Chevrolet, 167, $8,975; 9. (18)Rick Carelli, Ford, 167, $9,875; 10. (16)Mark Petty, Dodge, 167, $9,675; 11. (25)Joe Ruttman, Dodge, 167, $10,175; 12. (2)David Starr, Dodge, 167, $8,490; 13. (34)Rick Ware, Chevrolet, 164, $8,390; 14. (33)Randy MacDonald, Chevrolet, 163, $9,290; 15. (31)Carlos Contreras, Dodge, 160, $9,490; 16. (35)Ricky Sanders, Ford, 153, $8,090; 17. (9)Terry Cook, Chevrolet, 151, $9,000; 18. (24)Chris Horn, Chevrolet, 140, engine, $7,915; 19. (7)Marty Houston, Chevrolet, 126, $8,815; 20. (32)Lance Norick, Chevrolet, 119, $8,965; 21. (12)Mike Wallace, Ford, 117, engine, $8,615; 22. (5)Jack Sprague, Chevrolet, 114, accident, $12,015; 23. (13)Derrike Cope, Dodge, 114, accident, $7,415; 24. (22)Brian Sockwell, Chevrolet, 109, running, $7,315; 25. (3)Greg Biffle, Ford, 79, accident, $8,215; 26. (26)Larry Gunselman, Ford, 52, accident, $7,115; 27. (21)B.A. Wilson, Chevrolet, 43, running, $8,015; 28. (19)Steve Grissom, Dodge, 40, engine, $7,915; 29. (15)Tony Roper, Ford, 31, accident, $6,815; 30. (36)Randy Renfrow, Chevrolet, 17, driver fatigue, $6,715; 31. (11)Rob Morgan, Ford, 17, accident, $7,590; 32. (28)Patrick Lawler, Chevrolet, 10, accident, $6,590; 33. (14)Chad Chaffin, Chevrolet, 1, accident, $6,590; 34. (23)Coy Gibbs, Chevrolet, 1, accident, $6,590; 35. (27)Eric Norris, Ford, 1, accident, $6,590; 36. (30)Tommy Croft, Chevrolet, 1, accident, $6,590 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings - 1. Greg Biffle 3,666; 2. Kurt Busch 3,416; 3. Andy Houston 3,386; 4. Mike Wallace 3,383; 5. Jack Sprague 3,156; 6. Joe Ruttman 3,108; 7. Dennis Setzer 3,084; 8. Randy Tolsma 3,054; 9. Steve Grissom 3,004; 10. Bryan Reffner 2,998.