Busch Starts First In NCTS Finale

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FONTANA, Calif. - Jack Sprague has proven to be the California Kid of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but it was another kid who stole the show on Friday.

In the three NCTS races at California Speedway – host of Saturday’s Motorola 200, the finale of the 2000 season for the trucks – Sprague has been victorious twice. But if Sprague is to visit victory lane again, he’s going to have to pass a few trucks on the way… including the one of an amazing 22-year-old rookie talent.

In Friday’s rain-delayed qualifying for the event, young Kurt Busch won the pole in his No. 99 Roush Racing Ford, and will start just ahead of Andy Houston, this season’s champion Greg Biffle, Dennis Setzer and Rick Carelli.

This is the fourth pole – and third in the past four events - of a remarkable rookie season for Busch. The Las Vegas native has three wins and 12 top-five finishes in 23 starts.

"The truck was really hooked-up during the run and I was a little concerned that we weren't going to get as much grip as we wanted because of al the rain and the track being so green," said Busch. "But once we got up to speed through the first corners I knew we were going to have enough to turn in a good lap. I didn't think it would be good enough for the pole though."

Sprague, a two-time champion in the series who is currently fifth in points, will start 11th.

If Sprague is considered the California Kid, you might call Joe Ruttman the California Grandpa. He’s sure to be a crowd favorite in the event.

Ruttman, who turns 56 on Saturday and is sixth in the points standings, spent the early years of his life in California, and the grounds upon which California Speedway sits are very special to him. His father was an employee of Kaiser Steel Mill, which used to be on the land where the speedway currently resides.

"It's pretty neat to race on the same ground my dad worked when I was growing up," said Ruttman. "It's always amazing how time changes things, yet everything pretty much stays the same. It’s one of the reasons I like racing here. I feel like it's familiar ground. It’s always going to have a special place in my heart."

Ruttman, who will start 10th on Saturday, turned his “special” feelings into a “special” run last year at California Speedway. He crossed under the checkered flag in second place, less than a second behind Sprague.

"Over the past two races, we've had some bad luck," said Ruttman, who trails Sprague by 48 points in the standings. "But Sprague has had worse luck. We've got a chance to get in the Top 5 in points, but we're going to go out there and run just like we have all year. We're going out to win the race, and the points situation will take care of itself.

"It's real important to end the year with a strong finish. It's a long time between the last race of the season and the start of next season. So to go to California and get a top-five finish like last year would make the offseason go by a little faster."

One driver who started the season figuring he’d be worrying a great deal about points during this race, doesn’t have to worry about them at all. Biffle clinched his first NASCAR title at Texas on Oct. 13, and has nothing but the glory of another win to shoot for on Saturday.

That’s not the case for his teammate, Busch, though. Busch is second – 250 points behind Biffle and 30 points ahead of Houston – in the standings, and would love nothing more than to finish out his NCTS career with a 1-2 finish for Roush in the championship race. Busch will become a full-time driver in the Winston Cup Series next year.

Houston – who will also move to the Winston Cup Series next season - has what it takes to put the pressure on Busch. He finished in the Top 5 at California two years ago and won the pole for this race in 1998 and last year.

Other drivers starting in the Top 10 include Rick Crawford (sixth), Randy Tolsma (seventh), Mike Wallace (eighth) and Mark Petty (ninth).

Saturday’s race will be televised by ESPN2 at 4 p.m. (ET).



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