- John Schwarb
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Three-time Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague was fired Tuesday by Kevin Harvick Inc. after 20 races in which his No. 2 Chevrolet ran well behind the No. 33 of defending champion and current points-leading teammate Ron Hornaday Jr.
Harvick will replace Sprague in the series' next race Oct. 18 at Martinsville, Va., with drivers for the remaining four races after that yet to be determined.
"The performance of the No. 2 team was not up to either Jack or KHI's standards," Harvick said in a statement. "My main goal now is to prepare the team to run for a championship in 2009."
Sprague sat eighth in points, 489 behind Hornaday, after his second consecutive DNF Saturday at Talladega, Ala. He crashed with 24 laps to go at the superspeedway and finished 27th, his second-worst finish of the season, two weeks after crashing out in 26th at Las Vegas.
"We didn't have the results. It was no one thing, but every week it was something. It's been a miserable year for everybody involved," Sprague said. "It's just getting to the point where enough's enough. I've got nothing bad to say, I have a lot of respect for Kevin and what he's built there, just sometimes it doesn't work."
Harvick signed Sprague near the end of the 2007 season, creating a Truck Series super team with three two-time champions. Sprague and Hornaday combined to win five championships in a six-year span from 1996-2001 for rival Chevy teams, Sprague with Hendrick Motorsports and Hornaday with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Sprague, tied with Circle Bar Racing's Rick Crawford for the most starts in the history of the series and second in all-time wins behind Hornaday, drove a Wyler Racing Toyota in 2006-07. The second year was one of frustration as he won the season opener at Daytona but struggled over the last two-thirds of the season to a career-worst ninth-place points finish.
Moving to the No. 2 Chevy, a part-time truck driven by Harvick, Clint Bowyer and others in 2007, Sprague figured to have his best chance at returning to the championship form of 1997, 1999 and 2001. There were some signs early in the season such as runner-ups at Kansas in April and Dover, Del., in May. Hornaday won Kansas and ran third at Dover in the KHI show of strength.
But as Hornaday continued to run up front -- 10 top-10s in the 12 races since Dover, with four more wins -- Sprague had only five top-10s and nothing higher than fourth despite capable trucks that consistently started in the top-10.
"The first half of the year we were ahead of what they thought we should be, running well and finishing well most of the time. At one point we were fifth in points and coming on good," Sprague said. "Then it was just one thing after another. We never had any problems getting speed, we were always one of the best trucks in practice. When the race starts, everything seems to unravel."
In August at Bristol, Tenn., Sprague and Hornaday got together in a wreck that caused Hornaday, with a 24th-place finish, to drop 74 points farther back to then-leader Johnny Benson. Hornaday made up the deficit in the last four races and reclaimed the lead with a runner-up finish at Talladega.
"We've been friends forever and we're going to be friends. There's nothing there at all," Sprague said. "He's a great teammate, a great racecar driver, they've got it going on like Donkey Kong, which they should. They won the championship last year and they're on the same path this year.
"When you've got one truck that doesn't have any trouble and one that has a lot of trouble, it's difficult as an owner I'm sure to look at that."
Sprague, 44, questioned the timing of the decision with five races remaining but said he understood the team's need to put the No. 2 in a position to land sponsorship for next season with current sponsor American Commercial Lines not expected to return.
Whether he has made his final start in the Trucks remains to be seen.
"I've contemplated retirement. I've had a very, very rough year and a half," he said. "This business has a lot of ups and downs, the downs are very tough to take when you want to win as bad as I do."
John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2dK. Lee Davis