Point race tightens heading to NAPA 200 By Dave Rodman FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 15, 1999 To the delight of the fans and officials -- but to the obvious dismay of the competitors -- the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season will go down to the ...
Point race tightens heading to NAPA 200 By Dave Rodman
FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 15, 1999 To the delight of the fans and officials -- but to the obvious dismay of the competitors -- the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season will go down to the season finale at California Speedway as a three-horse race; the tightest in the five-year history of the series.
With his second place finish in Friday night's O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, Grainger Ford driver Greg Biffle snatched the point lead back from former leader Jack Sprague. Biffle unofficially holds a 21-point edge over GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet pilot Sprague heading to the NAPA Auto Parts 200 on Oct. 30 at the two-mile speedway in Fontana, outside Los Angeles.
Stirring the pot to a froth is Mopar Performance Parts Dodge driver Dennis Setzer, who with his third place finish Friday night closed to within 25 points of leader Biffle.
The scenario revisits 1998, when two-time and defending NCTS champion Ron Hornaday went into the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a 13-point advantage over Sprague and ended up with a three-point title edge.
It gets just as good further down the line. Positions four-six are separated by just 58 points, with Stacy Compton heading Friday night's winner Jay Sauter and Mike Wallace, who finished fourth.
Despite the outcome and his edge, Biffle said he wouldn't rest too easy Friday night. Apparently he's still having nightmares over a penalty that was assessed against his Roush Racing team after his record-setting ninth victory over the season, in which he lost the difference in points between first and 36th. With that, he came into Texas trailing Sprague by 24 points.
"I don't think I'll have too good a night's sleep," Biffle said, grinning at the same time. "A good night's sleep would come if we could go and celebrate our championship tonight, which we should be able to do -- because all we'd have to do is to take the green flag at California to secure the championship.
"It's unfortunate the turn of events that has happened. Whatever the outcome is, it's just unfortunate. Going in there (California) with a 20-point lead doesn't give you any cushion at all. As you saw here, anything can happen."
Indeed it did. Sauter, running with a carefree attitude at the end of the year, scored his second straight win, this one coming from his second straight Bud Pole at Texas.
Sprague had a lot more to grit his teeth about, though. He wrecked his primary truck in practice Thursday afternoon and never seemed to recover. He led no laps on Friday, unlike Biffle and Setzer, and seemed resigned to going to California facing the same scenario as a year ago, but chasing a different antagonist.
"I'm glad this weekend's over," said Sprague shaking his head in disgust after climbing from his 11th place mount. "I'm proud of this guys on the Hendrick Motorsports team for what they did - they changed the whole truck over from what we had to work with yesterday.
"We were decent on the long runs but not very good at all on the short runs, and that's what we had at the end. But, we did it to ourselves. We got off on the wrong foot and never got it right."
Compton could pretty much say the same thing. He ended up 12th in the RC Cola Dodge and fell 135 points out of first, making a championship a virtual impossibility. But for the multiple race winner a year ago, a race win would make up for should not be a disappointing season, although Friday night was another story.
"I'm disappointed in the finish," Compton said. "We were in the run for the championship coming into this race and we just didn't finish where we needed to. I hate it for this RC team because they are capable of winning races and winning a championship. We are going to head to Fontana and see if we can get that win at the last race."
That's going to be a tall order considering Biffle got back on a roll at Texas. He's been effective everywhere this season and he's anticipating the wide-open California layout, especially with an optional test day preceding the event.
"Big tracks) give us racing room," said Biffle, who ended the previous event at Louisville with one wadded Ford F-150 and a bunch of dents in his race truck. "I'm excited to go to California. It's been a long time since we're been there. We all have a test day. That will help us. Our speedway program, we've worked really hard on it. But we can't get our truck quite as balanced as everybody else. I don't know if it's me or what it is. It takes us the whole dang race to get it working good. And we got it here at the end of the night. That test day will help us in California."
If that's the case, he'll have a lot of company trying to tune up for the most anticipated finale in the series' history.
"We've got to win the race and hope they don't run that well," Sprague pretty much summed up for all of Biffle's foes.
"The points are even tighter now, so we will just go to Fontana and keep doing what we have been doing and see how it all shakes out when the checkered flag drops," Setzer said.