AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Sprague's New Team Shows Life With Runner-Up Day At KansasKANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jack Sprague is not the type to be overjoyed with second-place finishes, not after three championships and 28 wins in the Craftsman Truck Series. So after climbing out of his Chevrolet at Kansas Speedway, having run second to Kevin Harvick Inc. teammate Ron Hornaday, Sprague mostly wore his familiar half-scowl. Yet at the same time he could see the bigger picture. "Don't get me wrong, I wanted to win this race probably worse than any other race I've ever won in my life," Sprague said. "But I'm not going to go home and kick the dog because I ran second, especially to my teammate. It was a great day for KHI, a one-two punch isn't bad." Everyone figured great days would be plentiful for Hornaday, coming off a championship year. All he needed to return to Victory Lane (after four trips last year) was some luck, and he finally got that at Kansas when his fuel supply lasted just long enough. He had run fifth at California, second at Atlanta to Kyle Busch and eighth at Martinsville prior to Kansas, where the win returned him to where he finished 2007 -- atop the standings. KHI signed Sprague at the end of last season, uniting two three-time truck champions in one shop. But as the first four races of this year showed, adding a second full-time truck, even with one of the series' most accomplished drivers, wasn't a deal in which you could clone the established team and -- presto! -- have two great teams. There's still an adjustment period, and Sprague and the No. 2 Chevy team lived it through four races that included just one finish above 19th, a sixth at Atlanta. "I know it looks like we joined a championship team, which we did, but still my team is new," Sprague said. "We're finally starting to come together. We don' t have any problems finding speed; we're fast everywhere we go. It's just getting the pit stops good, doing the right things, everybody getting used to each other." True that. Sprague sat on the pole at Martinsville and qualified in the first three rows at every other race save California, where rain forced the field to start on 2007 owner points and he was 30th (the No. 2 was a part-time truck last year). Bad racing luck was a factor at some stops, like Daytona, where an early cut tire put him down three laps. But pit stops have been a more recurring factor, such as Martinsville, where Sprague's track-record pole position was rendered worthless after a slow first stop. For Kansas, the No. 2 and 33 teams switched some members of the pit crews, and the results were immediate. Breathing a sigh of relief was Hornaday's crew chief, Rick Ren. "I kind of pushed Kevin to start the second team, I designed the trucks, I give [the No. 2] their setups, I hand-picked [Sprague's crew chief] Ernie Cope. Once we get to the track, they're on their free reign, but we had a big struggle with them the first few races," Ren said. "Of course I want Ron to win, but to me, either one of them winning, I win. It's really self-gratifying to see them run good." It's self-gratifying for the driver, too, especially with the heart of the schedule coming up with seven consecutive weeks of racing beginning May 16 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "That's why I decided to take this job, I knew it was good stuff," said Sprague, who rose from 15th to ninth in points from Kansas. "For the fifth race on this team, to be that close to winning is pretty impressive, I'm pretty proud of that fact. This gives us some momentum going to Charlotte. Hopefully we can beat [Hornaday] there." And get on the other side of those one-two punches. John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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