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Sprague Looking to Rebound at Gateway

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (July 17, 2002)—Jack Sprague is hoping to collect on an old debt when he returns to Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., for the Charter Pipeline 250 NASCAR Busch Series race on Saturday.

The last time Sprague competed at the 1.25-mile oval, his No. 24 NetZero NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry suffered engine trouble while leading with just 35 circuits remaining. While Sprague managed to salvage an eighth-place finish, he feels like the St. Louis-area track owes him one.

“Last year’s truck series race was disappointing for all of us,” said Sprague, who will pilot the No. 24 NetZero Chevy Monte Carlo in this weekend’s event. “We were leading the race when the engine developed a misfire.

“I can’t really say I had the truck to win that race, but I would have given Ted (eventual winner Ted Musgrave) a run for his money. We never got that chance.

“We’ve never had a bad run at Gateway and I don’t plan to start now,” he continued. “I like racing at Gateway. Hopefully, we gain a good amount of points this weekend and get this NetZero team headed in the direction it deserves to be going—to the top.”

While Saturday’s race will mark Sprague’s fifth visit to Gateway, it will be his first in a Busch Series car. The Spring Lake, Mich., driver finished fourth in the inaugural Craftsman Truck Series race at Gateway in 1998 and followed it with a third-place effort one year later.

In 2000, Sprague steered his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Silverado to victory lane. Last year’s eighth-place run marked the first time Sprague finished outside the top five in four Gateway truck events.

“Gateway is similar to Martinsville (Va.), just bigger,” said Sprague. “The long straight-aways and tight, sweeping corners are similar at both tracks.

“At Gateway, turns one and two are tight and turns three and four are the sweepers, making it almost impossible to have a chassis setup that will work equally at both ends of the track. That means you need to compromise your setup, making it pretty challenging for the drivers. None of that bothers us because we’ve always found something that kept us up front all day.”

Sprague enters the Gateway race coming off a disappointing 42nd-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway. He is third in the 2002 championship standings heading into the 200-lap event.

“I’m looking forward to going back to Gateway because I’ve got a good amount of laps there and feel comfortable with the track,” said Sprague. “I won a race there and came pretty darn close to winning the others, so you can say I like this track.

“I’ve never had a poor qualifying run there, but I’ve never won a pole at Gateway either. Maybe we can do something about that this weekend.”

The 20th of 34 Busch Series races this season, the Charter Pipeline 250 will take the green flag on Saturday, July 20. The event will be televised live on TNT (8 p.m. EDT) and broadcast on MRN Radio (7:30 p.m. EDT).


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