Musgrave and Setzer will settle championship at Homestead-Miami
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2005) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship goes down to the wire for the 10th time in 11 seasons this Friday and the only thing certain is that the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will produce a first-time champion.
Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge), who's never finished worse than third in the points in four fulltime seasons, carries a 58-point lead into the 25th race of the 2005 season.
Rival Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Z71 Silverado Chevrolet) also has been here before -- and likewise has come up empty. Setzer finished second to Travis Kvapil in 2005 and a year ago to Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge).
For Musgrave, the math is simple: finish 10th or better and win the championship.
Musgrave offered a preview of his strategy following a sixth-place finish in last week's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"Whatever position he's in, I could be 10-12 trucks behind him and still win the championship," Musgrave said. "I have to be thoughtful and keep an eye forward and keep an eye back, too."
Setzer's task is a little more daunting. He'll have to finish as high as possible and hope Musgrave has a less-than perfect race.
"To go forward in the standings our Silverado team must run well in the race, lead laps and gain as many points as we can," said Setzer, whose best Homestead finish is sixth. "That is the only thing we have control over.
"Everyone knows that anything can really happen in the race to Ted or myself but the one truck (Musgrave) ran poorly at Texas and that's the last mile- and-a-half track we ran at. If they were to run like that again and we run top three then we could catch them."
While the results of the first 24 races mirror seasons past -- a tight points race entering the finale -- this hardly has been a typical season.
Musgrave hasn't won a race since April while Setzer, on the strength of four summer victories, opened a 227-point advantage in early August.
Setzer, however, went into a nine-race swoon during which he's posted only two finishes higher than 13th. Musgrave racked up seven top-10 performances during the same span.
"Everybody has good days and bad days and we've seen it," said Musgrave, who scored his first series victory in 2001 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and twice has finished second. "Each of us has had really bad weeks. It's been like 'here, you take it; no, you take it.' (The points lead) has been like a hot potato."
Having been there before, Musgrave safely can predict what's in store for both contenders.
"It's going to be nerve-racking for both teams and owners," he said.
Championship weekend take two:
Musgrave and Setzer probably are pleased to see time run out for Todd Bodine (No. 30 Germain Motor Company Toyota), whose Phoenix victory was his second in a row and third in the past five races.
Bodine, with nine top-three finishes in 14 starts since rejoining the Germain team on June 18, closed within 157 points of Musgrave. Mathematics, however, are on the leader's side: Bodine will be eliminated when Musgrave takes the green flag.
Musgrave, at 49 years 10 months, would be the series' oldest champion. Hamilton was 47 years five months of age when he won last year's title.
Setzer's 192 starts would be the most for a first-time champion. Mike Bliss (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) won the 1992 championship in his 144th start.
This year's title race is the sixth-closest with one race remaining.
Fourth-place Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) is the only driver locked into a top-10 position, although Hornaday could pass Bodine for third. Six drivers -- Musgrave, Setzer, Bodine, Hornaday, Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) and Hamilton -- are assured a place in the top 10.
Tenth-place -- the final spot on stage at next month's awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla. -- is the most precarious. Jimmy Spencer (No. 2 Team ASE Dodge) is a single point ahead of Todd Kluever (No. 50 World Financial Group Ford). Six drivers are within 94 points of Spencer.
One competitor hoping to "stick" is eighth-place Jack Sprague (No. 60 Jeff Wyler Toyota). Sprague has finished among the top 10 in all eight previous seasons. The four former series champions -- Hamilton, Hornaday, Skinner and Sprague -- who have competed fulltime in 2005 are among the current top 10.