Would you rather be lucky, or good? The age-old question characterized the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ return to Kansas Speedway on July 6, 2002, for the second running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250.
In the field that day were a number of recognizable names of the present including the 2002 truck series rookie-of-the-year, Brendan Gaughan and that day’s pole-sitter, Jason Leffler who claimed the spot by posting an average lap of 165.812 mph. But perhaps the most familiar was a slender, largely anonymous, 22-year-old competitor from Columbia, Mo. named Carl Edwards, who would drive to an impressive eighth-place finish in the contest.
The real show that July afternoon was between two seasoned competitors, Mike Bliss, a 37-year-old former United States Auto Club champion and part-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor and Rick Crawford, a short-tracker and mainstay in the truck series.
Crawford, who started from inside the third row, appeared to have shaken the demons that had hampered his efforts to grab his first victory in four years. After leading 127 of the 167-lap event, his luck again turned south. While leading with just a handful of laps remaining, Crawford suffered mechanical issues resulting in a disappointing 12th-place finish for the snake-bit Alabaman.
By that time, Bliss, who had mid-race pit troubles costing him 10 spots, had willed his way back up to the third position. As Crawford’s truck slowed, Leffler, who was running in second-place, experienced his own brand of misery. “When the No. 14 (Crawford) blew, we were just sliding around in its oil. I slid up the track and we couldn’t see anymore,” said Leffler in a post-race interview.
As a result of hard work and perhaps fate, Bliss would take advantage of both Crawford and Leffler’s late race hardships to drive on to his first win at Kansas Speedway and the ninth of his truck series career.
“Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not, and we just happened to be in the right spot,” said Bliss. “I’d rather have luck than anything else.”
Bliss’ good fortunes continued throughout the year as he picked up a total of five victories on his way to his first and only NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.