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Carelli Scores First Victory

June 23, 1996

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) _ Rick Carelli scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory as he came out on top in a tense battle with Dave Rezendes to win Saturday night’s accident-delayed Coca-Cola 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Carelli, driving a Chevrolet, held off Rezendes’s Ford by 0.291 seconds after Joe Ruttman’s Ford fell from the late-race lead with a flat tire. The pair banged bumpers several times over the final 10 laps, the last time in the fourth turn of the concluding lap around the 0.533-mile concrete oval.

The winner, who averaged 83.922 mph, won $35,925. He started second in the 33-truck field, the position in which he ran until taking the lead from Ruttman in the first turn of the 162nd lap.

The race came down to a final sprint, after the ninth caution was lifted on the 179th lap. Carelli, Rezendes, Jay Sauter, Mike Bliss and Butch Miller were in position to win the $267,875 race as late as the 190th lap but Carelli and Rezendes pulled away from their pursuers to turn it into a two-truck contest.

``It was the hardest 30 laps I’ve ever driven in my life,″ said Carelli, whose best previous series finish was second at Flemington, N.J., a race he lost on the final lap.

``I proved to myself, tonight, that if you give me (a good truck), I can drive the wheels off of it.″

Sauter finished third in a Chevrolet, the best outing of the season for the rookie-of-the-year candidate. Skinner, who took over the lead in the driver standings from Ron Hornaday Jr., took fourth in a Chevrolet. Jack Sprague drove another Chevrolet to a fifth, followed by Ruttman, Bobby Gill, Hornaday, Lance Norick and Walker Evans.

While Skinner, the defending series champion, had a three-race win streak end, he assumed the point lead for the first time in 1996. He has 1,293 points to 1,288 for Hornaday after eight of 24 scheduled races. Sprague is third with 1,259.

The race was red-flagged twice, after lap 79 for a nine-car accident on the backstretch and, on lap 162, when Mike Bliss’s Ford hit the front stretch wall and rolled onto its side before sliding into the first turn following contact with a Chevrolet driven by Gill. The latter incident stopped the race for almost 63 minutes while five posts and 60 feet of fencing damaged in the incident was replaced.

No driver in either accident was injured.

Skinner led the first 125 laps from the pole position. His Chevrolet, which developed a handling problem after the mid-race break, was passed on lap 126 by Ruttman, who appeared headed for his first victory of the season from a 33rd place start. But his Ford was forced to the pits by a flat left rear tire on the 162nd lap.

Ruttman, the defending race winner, qualified 13th but forfeited the position when he missed the pre-race driver introductions. He quickly moved to the front _ to ninth by lap 40 and fifth at the halfway break.

The event’s nine caution flags consumed 44 laps.

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