Craftsman Truck driver Jack Sprague breaks Dodge's stranglehold with a flashy performance in his Chevy.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001
Jack Sprague uncovered many secrets last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Craftsman Truck series driver figured out how to solve Dodge's stranglehold on Victory Lane, becoming the first non-Dodge driver to make an appearance there this season.
He finally nailed down the 1.5-mile Texas oval, earning his first win at the track that has teased him for several years.
But most important, Sprague might have figured out how to turn his luck, and the team fortunes that go along with it, back in the right direction.
When the checkered flag fell over Sprague's No. 24 Chevrolet, it broke a 22-race drought for the two-time champion, who is the only driver to appear in all of the series' 155 races.
That he enters an off week with a win is the most important thing to Sprague. Beating the Dodges was a nice bonus. The fact it happened at Texas was just plain surprising.
"When we first started going to Texas, we sat on a couple of poles, led a lot of laps but that place just had it in for us," Sprague said. "We broke some motors, crashed hard several times, including both races there last year. We've probably been the only team consistently able to run with the Dodges. To win at Texas was great."
To win at all must have felt great for Sprague.
After winning the points title in 1997, Sprague finished second in 1998 and won again in 1999. With most of his competition moving up to the Busch Grand National series it looked as if Sprague might win again last season.
After finishing 33rd at the opener in Daytona, Sprague ripped off nine consecutive top five finishes, including eight in the top three and three wins.
After a 28th place, it looked as if Sprague was back on track to run away with the title, posting three more top 10s. Then it all fell apart.
A 34th place was followed by a fifth and then a 13th, 17th and a 30th. Of the remaining five races, Sprague finished outside the top 15 three times. He finished fifth in the standings.
"The second half of last year was miserable," Sprague said. "It was catastrophic. We had the worst luck in the world. Some of it was caused by ourselves, some of it wasn't. I just kept looking back and thinking I had five great years here with some pretty decent breaks and good luck. If it means I have a second half of a year go bad I'm just going to have to deal with it.
"Then we started this year and everything was going pretty good, then we started having bad luck again."
In his first five races, Sprague had three Top 10 finishes but no wins. He has put his truck in position to win several times but broken engines and other gremlins seem to plague him.
In the three races before Texas he inched closer to turning it around only to have something go wrong.
At Darlington there was a the flat tire under a rain delay. He finished 12th. Next was Pikes Peak and a miscommunication in the pits late in the race which led to third place.
Then there was the final straw, the MBNA e-commerce 200 at Dover, where Scott Riggs drove past Sprague with 39 laps to go and led Dodge to a record-tying eighth consecutive victory.
"At Dover we led all day and lost at the end," Sprague said. "We needed a win."
Six days later he got it. And he did it in convincing fashion, winning by 4.67 seconds at a track record average speed of 133.620 mph. The win moved him into third in the points race, 71 behind Riggs.
"Finally, to win at Texas, that was the last place in the world I thought we'd win and we won it," Sprague said. "I think this team is on track. the team is stronger than it's ever been, the truck is driving better than it's ever driven. If that's any indication of what's to come, I think we're in great shape."