DARLINGTON, SC (March 16, 2002) - Jack Sprague's successful return to the NASCAR Busch Series continued Saturday at Darlington Raceway as the veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver muscled his No. 24 NetZero Chevrolet Monte Carlo to a ninth-place ...
DARLINGTON, SC (March 16, 2002) - Jack Sprague's successful return to the NASCAR Busch Series continued Saturday at Darlington Raceway as the veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver muscled his No. 24 NetZero Chevrolet Monte Carlo to a ninth-place finish in the Darlingtonraceway.com 200.
"It's unreal how this day ended up," Sprague said. "Another 10 laps and I think I could have picked up a few more spots. I'm not complaining with the finish considering how the race started out."
Sprague's red, black and silver NetZero Monte Carlo got off to a slow start posting the 27th quickest time in qualifying, a lap of 164.678 miles per hour on the tough 1.33-mile Darlington oval.
"We thought we had a shot at the pole considering we had a great test at Darlington last week," Sprague said. "The car was tight in the center of the corner in practice, but then got really loose in qualifying. The crew worked right down to the last minute in Happy Hour and got the car to where we ended up with a darn good car for the race."
Sprague's raceday effort also proved to be a test as he was involved in an incident with Ron Hornaday and Casey Mears on Lap 6. Mears wound up driving over the right front of Sprague's NetZero Chevy causing significant damage to the nose of the racecar.
"The deal with the No. 66 car (Mears) wasn't my fault and all I was hoping I didn't have a tire going down," Sprague said. "Hornaday was trying to get underneath us, but neither of us were budging either. It was a bad deal, but it could have been worse."
Sprague soldiered on for the next 20 circuits before heading to pit road for repairs under caution. A number of other trips to pit road throughout the event allowed Sprague's crew to eventually fix the damaged racer, all while keeping the driver on the lead lap and in contention for a good finish.
"My guys did a great job in the pits today," Sprague said. "They worked hard and never let me fall a lap down and that's what separates the great teams from the bad. I can't do this job every week without their dedication."
The ninth-place finish was Sprague's fourth Top-10 effort in as many NASCAR Busch Series races this season. Sprague is now third in the season championship standings, just 13 points out of first place.
"I hate that we lost the points lead, but it was so close going into it today that I couldn't make that the main focus," said Sprague, who entered the Darlington race atop the point standings. "It's early in the year and a lot can happen. I know we can get back where we were if we stay focused. Next week is Bristol and I love that place. I've raced there enough to know it makes for awesome racing and I'm glad to be getting another shot of coming out of there with a good finish."
The Channellock 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway will take the green flag Saturday, March 23 at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The event will be the fifth of 34 NASCAR Busch Series races this season and will be telecast live on FX. PRN Radio will also broadcast the race live on more than 300 affiliated stations worldwide.