Jack Sprague passed two cars for the lead with one lap remaining and won Saturday's NAPA Auto Parts 200, a victory that carried him to his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in three years.
Sprague came into the race at California Speedway trailing Greg Biffle by 21 points and just four ahead of Dennis Setzer, whose Dodge was knocked out of the 100-lap race in an early wreck.
Throughout most of the event, Biffle's Ford was running just high enough to grab his first series title. But, moments before Sprague's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet jumped from third to first on a restart on lap 99, Biffle got behind a lapped truck and lost positions to Jimmy Hensley and Bobby Hamilton, slipping to ninth.
Debris on the two-mile oval brought out the last of three caution flags on lap 93. After the green flag waved again for the restart on lap 99, Sprague, working with fellow Chevrolet driver Ron Hornaday, went after leader Mike Bliss.
But, when Hornaday and Bliss began to race each other, Sprague drove by both, nearly racing on the track apron.
"I felt bad for Ron because he helped me all day, but I saw a chance to win the race and I had to take it," Sprague said.
Meanwhile, Biffle regained two positions. But he could get no closer than seventh and lost the championship by eight points two positions.
"We had a pretty loose truck. I just didn't want to wreck anybody," Biffle said. "I'm not sure what happened up there, but the No. 24 (Sprague) got the lead and that put too many spots between us."
The close championship battle was second only to last year's three-point victory by Hornaday over Sprague, who also won this race.
"We had a tough year," said Sprague, the 1997 series champion. "The breaks have gone against us all year long, but my guys dug and dug and dug. We came in here trying to protect second, but anybody who knows me knows I never give up."
Sprague, who finished second in the series in 1996 and 1998, won for only the third time this season and the first time since June 5 in Bristol, Tenn.
"It's really disappointing, but it's obvious that's what NASCAR wanted," said Biffle, still smarting from a damaging penalty handed down by NASCAR last month in Las Vegas. "Look, we got nine wins this year. Nobody has been able to do that. It's obvious the only reason we lost the championship is because of the point penalty."
Biffle's team was penalized 120 points of a 130-point lead by NASCAR for an illegal engine part used in the Las Vegas race, which he won.
"We're just going to do better next year and, hopefully have more than a 130-point lead and not come down to the last race of the year," he said.
With the late shuffle, Joe Ruttman wound up second Saturday, followed by Stacy ComptonHamilton, Bliss, two-time series champion Hornaday and Biffle.
Sprague and Hornaday, bitter rivals on the track and friends off it, celebrated after the race by stopping their trucks side-by-side on the apron in front of the main grandstand, climbing out and raising their hands in a victory gesture.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed