HOMESTEAD, Fla. (January 5, 2000) – When Dennis Setzer coasted into the pits with a blown engine on the opening lap of the 1999 Florida Dodge Dealers 400, little did he know that the last place finish would cost him a shot at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship.
Setzer was in Miami on Wednesday testing for the February 25-26 fifth annual running of the Florida Dodge Dealers 400, and is hoping for a better showing at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season opener.
"We had an unfortunate deal here last year, and at the end of the year we wished we had a few more points from Miami," said the driver of the K-Racing Mopar Performance Dodge. "We intend to do a little better this year. It’s a very important race for us. It’s sponsored by Dodge, and it’s important for all the Dodge guys to perform well here. It’s one of our biggest races of the year."
Setzer finished third in the 1999 standings, 108 points behind Jack Sprague and 100 behind Greg Biffle. The native of Newton, N.C. scored three victories and had top-10 finishes in 19 of the 25 events.
"I think it’s going to be a good battle for the championship this year," Setzer predicted. "Sprague’s going to be back, and even though Ron Hornaday is gone (to the NASCAR Busch Series), I think a bunch of guys will jump up and carry on the battle. Biffle won a lot of races last year (nine), and he’ s a tough competitor. It’s going to be an excellent year. It’s going to be really exciting and big for the series to open the season at Daytona (in the Feb. 18 Craftsman 250)."
Setzer’s experience at Homestead-Miami Speedway includes finishing 11th in the 1997 season finale of the NASCAR Goody’s Dash.
"We were in our own time zone that day," he recalled with a smile. "We really had the field covered, until we experienced tire trouble late in the race."
Setzer was joined by K-Automotive teammate Bob Keselowski, Impact Motorsports drivers Randy Tolsma and Mike Cope, and Dana’s Joe Ruttman in the final day of Dodge testing for the Florida Dodge Dealers 400.
Unofficially, Ruttman posted the fastest time of the day, running a lap of 36.51 seconds (147.905 mph). That was the second-fastest unofficial time of the three-day test, bettered only by Andy Houston’s 36.5 (147.945 mph) in a Chevrolet on Tuesday.
"I’ve never driven anything but a Ford before in NASCAR Craftsman Truck racing, so I expected driving a Dodge would be different," said Ruttman. "But driving the truck, I can’t tell the difference. Aerodynamically, there isn’t much difference. It seems to be a pretty even series, and when you watch them race, nobody’s got a clear-cut advantage."
Tickets are now on sale for the Florida Dodge Dealers 400, the Homestead-Miami Speedway 2000 opener. For additional information, including details of a three-event combination ticket with the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series races, call (305) 230-RACE, or visit the official Speedway web site, www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.