MOPAR Gateway Preview

RAM TOUGH 200 Gateway International Raceway St. Louis, Missouri August 20, 1999 DODGE RAM TEAMS ON PACE IN 1999 SEASON NCTS POINTS CHASE WATCH OUT CHEVY AND FORD... DODGE IS BACK AND HUNGRY FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP When the 1999 NASCAR...

RAM TOUGH 200 Gateway International Raceway St. Louis, Missouri August 20, 1999

DODGE RAM TEAMS ON PACE IN 1999 SEASON NCTS POINTS CHASE WATCH OUT CHEVY AND FORD... DODGE IS BACK AND HUNGRY FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP

When the 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) got underway, Dodge was flush with a success they hadn't experienced since their days with Richard Petty in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series 20 years earlier. And, with nearly three-quarters of this season in the record books, that success has not diminished. With an unprecedented number of poles, wins, top-five and top-10 finishes this year, Dodge is on pace to contend for both the Manufacturer's Championship and the NCTS Championship.

In the first three years of NCTS history, Dodge Ram teams earned a total of four wins and six pole positions over the course of three seasons. That wasn't bad for a manufacturer who'd been out of Winston Cup competition for 18 years. However, Dodge wasn't totally satisfied and made several team changes to improve chemistry in the racing organization.

After 18 races in the 1999 NCTS season, Dodge has already surpassed their record from the first three seasons combined. To date, Dodge has four wins, six pole positions and an impressive number of top-five starts and finishes. And for the first time in history, the pursuit of the NCTS and Manufacturer's Championships is coming down to a battle among all three manufacturers.

Currently, 18 points separate first and third for the Manufacturer's title with Dodge in third; Chevrolet leads with 114. And in the NCTS Championship points chase, 83 points separate first-place Greg Biffle and third-place Stacy Compton, driver of the #86 RC Dodge. Dennis Setzer, driver of the #1 Mopar Dodge is fourth, 28 points behind Compton.

How does Dodge compare to the other NCTS manufacturers? On a typical race weekend, Chevrolet fields 15 trucks while Ford averages 14. Dodge averages five Dodge Rams on the starting grid; the Run With The Ram program may add two. And while Chevy and Ford outnumber the Dodge entries nearly three to one, Dodge has taken more than their share of poles, wins and top-five and top-ten starting and finishing positions this season. The proof is in the percentages.

With only 15% of the trucks in the NCTS field, Dodge has 24% of this season's wins and 33% of the pole positions. Dodge has dominated many qualifying sessions - five times this season Dodge Rams have been on the front row, and twice, four Dodges have qualified in the top five. At the July 24 goracing.com 200 at Michigan Speedway, Dodge Rams occupied the first two rows on the starting grid. So far this season, Dodge has earned 33 top-five starts (37% average) and 51 top-10 starts (28%).

Starting is only half of the battle in any race, and many people believe that it doesn't matter where you start, it only matters where you are when the checkered flag falls. And Dodge has been impressive on race day - Dodge has 29% of the top-five finishes (26 total) and 30% of the top-10 finishes (54).

To put all of these numbers into perspective for the incredible success of Dodge in this 1999 season, just compare the numbers after 18 races last year to this year. In '98, Dodge had 15% of the trucks in the field, but only one win (6%). Dodge had no poles, 6% of the top-five finishes and 10% of the top-ten finishes.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Dodge has had a record-breaking season - the numbers speak for themselves. Week in and week out, Dodge Rams are consistently at the front of the pack in qualifying and on race day. The NCTS Championship isn't out of reach for a Dodge driver. In fact, the 1998 NCTS champion - Ron Hornaday - won on the last turn of the last lap of the last race. The winning margin was a mere three points.

Current NCTS points leader Greg Biffle has earned 2,730 points this season, an 83-point edge over third-place Dodge driver Stacy Compton. How did Biffle earn those points? Points are awarded to every driver who starts a race; five bonus points are awarded to a driver who leads a lap and five more are awarded to the driver who leads the most laps. The winner of the race receives a base of 175 points, with the next four positions receiving five fewer points for each position (i.e., second earns 170, third 165 and fourth 160). Sixth through tenth position receive four fewer points for each position, and 11th position on down earns three fewer points for each position. At the end of the season, the driver with the most points wins the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship.

The points for the Manufacturer's Championship are awarded on a different scale. The manufacturer of the winning truck receives nine points, the next manufacturer receives six and the manufacturer which finishes the lowest of the three receives four points. For example, when Dodge wins the race and takes second and third places, Dodge receives nine points toward the title. If Chevrolet finishes fourth they earn six points and Ford gets four. The manufacturer with the most wins gets the title and the bragging rights.

RAM REVIEW Following the Aug. 5 Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

When Dennis Setzer earned his first NCTS career pole position last weekend in Indianapolis, he had high hopes for a fourth season victory for the #1 Mopar Dodge Team. In fact, the odds looked pretty good for a Dodge Ram driver to take the checkered flag as four Dodge Rams started in the top five spots.

Joe Ruttman, in the #18 Dana Dodge, started on the outside front row, his best career qualifying effort. Jimmy Hensley, in the #43 Dodge By Petty, had the fourth starting position and Stacy Compton in the #86 RC Dodge started fifth.

When the green flag flew, Setzer jumped out to a commanding lead, putting nearly ten truck lengths between him and second place. Setzer led the first 100 laps before scheduled green-flag pit stops shuffled the field.

After a caution flag, Setzer got loose and spun after an on-track exchange with Jay Sauter. Setzer managed to stay on the lead lap and fans anticipated another patented Setzer "spin and win" move. As Setzer worked his way through the field, he confronted the #25 Supergard Dodge of Randy Tolsma, who was running fourth at the time. When Setzer went under Tolsma to make the pass, both trucks lost traction, sending them into the wall. Both recovered and finished on the lead lap.

Compton battled with Greg Biffle for the win right down to the final turn. Compton finished second, Setzer seventh, Tolsma ninth and Ruttman tenth. Hensley finished the race 30th after breaking the motor early in the race.

RAMMIN' AHEAD... 8/20 Ram Tough 200 Gateway International Raceway St. Louis, Mo. TV: Aug. 20 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

8/28 O'Reilly Auto Parts 275 Heartland Park Topeka Topeka, Kan. TV: Aug. 28 at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN

9/9 Virginia is for Lovers 200 Richmond International Raceway Richmond, Va. TV: Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2

9/24 Las Vegas 250 Las Vegas Motor Speedway Las Vegas, Nev. TV: Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN

DODGE RAM FAST STATS After the Aug. 5 Power Stroke 200 at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Ind.

Dennis Setzer, #1 Mopar Dodge 1 pole, 3 wins, 7 top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes Started first in Indianapolis, finished seventh $316,860 total winnings in 18 NCTS starts Fourth in championship points Randy Tolsma, #25 Supergard Dodge 1 pole, 0 wins, 1 top-five finish, 8 top-10 finishes Started 13th in Indianapolis, finished ninth $157,610 total winnings in 18 NCTS starts 12th in championship points

Jimmy Hensley, #43 Dodge By Petty 1 win, 6 top-five finishes, 10 top-10 finishes Started fourth in Indianapolis, finished 30th $205,625 total winnings in 18 NCTS starts 11th in championship points

Stacy Compton, #86 RC Dodge 4 poles, 0 wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10 finishes Started fifth in Indianapolis, finished second $262,450 total winnings in 18 NCTS starts Third in championship points

Joe Ruttman, #18 Dana Dodge 0 wins, 2 top-five finishes, 4 top-10 finishes Started second in Indianapolis, finished tenth $96,195 total winnings in 12 NCTS starts 22nd in championship points

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Greg Biffle , Jay Sauter , Stacy Compton , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Dennis Setzer , Joe Ruttman , Randy Tolsma , Jimmy Hensley