Bliss comes up with first Truck Series win since 2002
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Mike Bliss grabbed the lead on a restart 10 laps from the end Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and held off Terry Cook for his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory in four years.
Bliss caught the lead pack and moved up to second place behind rookie Erik Darnell before a fire in rookie Arik Almirola's truck brought out the last of seven caution flags with 15 laps to go in the EasyCare Vehicle Services Contract 200.
The winner's Chevrolet Silverado quickly moved into the lead on the restart and began to pull away. But Cook, in a Ford F-150, also drove past Darnell to take second on Lap 124 and quickly began to close in on Bliss.
He was just over a truck-length behind the leader at the start of the final lap, but that was as close as Cook could come. Bliss, who has 13 truck victories, won by about 2 lengths, getting his first series win since a race at South Boston, Va., in September 2002. Bliss did win a Busch Series race in Charlotte in 2004.
"Our Silverado was fast," Bliss said. "I couldn't believe how fast it was. It never pushed all night and was really good in traffic."
The winner overcame a mistake in the pits on Lap 79 when he started to leave with loose lugnuts and was held up by his crew. But Bliss was undaunted.
"I just kind of felt like we had a good enough truck," he said. "And it felt good to come up through the pack again and win this thing.
"I haven't won [in the truck series] since 2002, and that's a long time. I was thinking about that today before the race. But we just needed something to go our way and it did. And we deserve it. But I'm glad it wasn't two laps longer."
Cook thought he was going to catch Bliss on the last lap.
"We ran him down there at the end of the race and caught him at the white flag," Cook said. "We couldn't get by him in turns one and two and then the nose washed out in three and four and that was it. Definitely, we had the fastest truck at the end, but we just couldn't get by Mike there."
The two drivers battling for the series championship both had bad races.
Leader Todd Bodine, who came into the race in front of Johnny Benson by 79 points, had to pit with a flat tire under the green flag and lost two laps early in the race. That gave the points lead to Benson until he crashed while running in the top 10 on Lap 89, falling seven laps behind before he was able to resume racing.
Bodine wound up 25th and Benson 29th, giving Bodine an 86-point lead with three races remaining.
"At least we both had problems the same day, so it was a wash," Bodine said.
Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger, moving to NASCAR's Nextel Cup series next season, ran his third truck race and started alongside pole-winner Mike Skinner. Allmendinger was leading early in the race when Joe Nemechek hit him from behind and sent him spinning hard into the wall.
Allmendinger wound up 34th, two positions ahead of NASCAR veteran Mark Martin, who crashed on the third lap of the race.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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