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Blk3GM's Dale Earnhardt Site

Hornaday bids farewell to Craftsman rivalry
By Mark Zeske, SportsLine Sports Writer
June 24, 1999

The greatest rivalry in motorsports of the late 1990s is coming to an end with the millennium.

Don't jump to conclusions. No, Jack Roush isn't retiring because he got tired of sending five or six cars after Jeff Gordon each week and coming up short. And don't even go to Formula One.

But Ron Hornaday is leaving the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at the end of the year, leaving Jack Sprague to his own devices.

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Sprague might not know what to do with himself, because he won't have Hornaday to bang fenders and swap paint with.

Sprague just might go flying into the wall all by himself.

The Craftsman Truck Series is NASCAR's version of the wild West, a rough and tumble series where no quarters are given and none asked. Sprague and Hornaday are the law and order in the series, establishing the standards for everyone else. The two drivers are the most feared gunslingers in the Craftsman Series, and the circuit at times seemed like it wasn't big enough for both drivers.

THE TWO DRIVERS HAVE POUNDED on each other plenty since NASCAR founded the circuit five years ago, but two instances stand out. One came at Indianapolis Raceway Park in August of 1998, while the other came in Richmond in 1996. Both times, one of the trucks, with a little help from the other, didn't finish the race.

While those two incidents were dramatic, the rivalry thrives daily on the circuit, from pre-race interviews to post-race quotes.

"They are the best drivers in the series, the toughest drivers in the series and the most competitive," says Jay Sauter, who as another one of the top Craftsman drivers has had a pretty good seat for the feud. "They go after it all the time, on and off the track. Actually, it is pretty entertaining."

Hornaday has been racing in trucks owned by Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion, since the circuit's first event, more than 100 races ago in 1995. Sprague started racing for Hendrick Motorsports halfway through the first season and has been driving the No. 24 ever since.

The rivalry actually has roots that date from before the Craftsman Series, back from when Ricky Rudd drove for Hendrick on the Winston Cup circuit. Rudd was always rubbing Earnhardt's paint the wrong way. The rivalry intensified in the mid 1990s when Hendrick helped make Jeff Gordon NASCAR's new king, dethroning Earnhardt.

The Sprague-Hornaday battle is not much different than the Gordon-Earnhardt rivalry. Both truck drivers want to win and that's not possible.

"Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc. have a lot in common," Hornaday says. "They've got a great background, won a lot of races and have a lot of sharp people working for them. We just race hard because we got two great teams. You got to beat Jack if you are going to win the race. Hopefully, he feels the same way about me, that if he beats me he has a pretty good shot at winning the race. It takes two great teams to do that."

THE PAIR COULDN'T AVOID A RIVALRY as they became the two best drivers on the circuit. Hornaday won the 1996 championship, then lost his crown to Sprague in 1997. Hornaday regained the title in 1998, but it took him to the last lap of the season. He won the points championship by a minuscule three-point margin, earned when he made a last-lap pass to move up a spot in the field during the last race of the year. Hornaday and Sprague rank first and second in most career categories in the Craftsman record book.

Both drivers try to downplay the rivalry, but they are both true to their personalities. Hornaday takes the feud more in stride as part of the sport. Sprague, meanwhile, seems to take things more personally. He respects Hornaday as a driver but knows that they are after the same things.

"My true feelings for him?" Sprague muses. "They're on and off. If we don't have any problems, then they're great."

The very nature of the truck series pushes the rivalry to the limit. For a variety of reasons -- the larger body of the trucks, the aggressiveness of drivers trying to make a name for themselves, the venues -- the truck circuit is the roughest series in auto racing.

"The trucks run close together all the time, short-track racing runs close together," Sprague says. "There's just going to be a lot of contact, no matter what. It is why fans show up."

Sprague and Hornaday each fit right in, both with a no-quarter-given style and a competitive fire. "We both want to win when we go out there. We're definitely going to knock some fenders," Hornaday says.

While Hornaday loves the truck series, he feels a strong sense of duty to Earnhardt, who gave him the opportunity to be a NASCAR champion. Hornaday has said for years that he wouldn't mind finishing his career on the Craftsman circuit, considered a stepping stone to Winston Cup by many, but also that he would do whatever Earnhardt wanted.

WELL, EARNHARDT WANTS WHAT NAPA wants. NAPA, the sponsor of Hornaday's truck, would like to move to the Busch Grand National circuit. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. moving up in 2000 from Busch to Winston Cup, Busch had both a team and a sponsor for the Busch Series. All he needed was a driver, which turned out to be the loyal Hornaday.

Now all Sprague needs is a new rival for a new millennium, though he longs for a Winston Cup ride. "It means more when you have to beat the best to win," Sprague says, "but I can't say that I'll miss (Hornaday)."

Spoken like a true rival.

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Blk3GM's Dale Earnhardt Site was born on July 26, 1998 and is owned and maintained by Gary Harris.  This site is a tribute to "NASCAR's Greatest Driver" and his up and coming son.  We are not affiliated with any official Team, Sponsors, Media Group or NASCAR.  This site is solely for entertainment purposes.  Information and statistic's on this site have been collected from various NASCAR related sites on the internet, from Winston Cup Scene, Newspapers, Television and our personal experience at Winston Cup and Busch Grand National races.  All statistics are believed to be accurate at the time they are updated but cannot be guaranteed.
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