Dodge leaves K Automotive

Dodge leaves K Automotive team at year's end By Dave Rodman CICERO, Ill. (Aug. 27, 2000) Officials with DaimlerChrysler informed team owners Bob and Kay Keselowski at Chicago Motor Speedway this weekend the manufacturer will drop its NASCAR ...

Dodge leaves K Automotive team at year's end
By Dave Rodman

CICERO, Ill. (Aug. 27, 2000) Officials with DaimlerChrysler informed team owners Bob and Kay Keselowski at Chicago Motor Speedway this weekend the manufacturer will drop its NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series sponsorship of the No. 1 K Automotive trucks at the conclusion of the NASCAR 2000 season. The news was a bombshell to the operation that has been a Mopar devotee for virtually the entire careers of brothers Bob and Ron Keselowski. K Automotive has six NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories, making it the most successful Mopar team in the six-year history of the series. All other Dodge teams have seven victories total.

"This was simply a business decision," said Ray Richards, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program manager for the Dodge Division of DaimlerChrysler. "The decision to terminate our agreement was based on a change of strategy we've made within the company.

"We have decided to form a two-truck team to make an all-out effort for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2001."

Richards said he was not at liberty to disclose the structure of next season's teams. However, he did say that driver Dennis Setzer and crew chief Howard Comstock would be part of the 2001 program, continuing as Dodge Division employees.

Richards' comments confirmed that the move was a result of the K Automotive team's drop in the championship standings from 1999 to 2000. Setzer finished third in the championship a year ago, when he went into the last race of the year 25 points out of a potential title. In 2000, plagued by engine failures and accidents, Setzer was eighth in the point standings heading into Sunday's Sears Craftsman 175 at Chicago Motor Speedway, 480 points behind leader Greg Biffle.

At Chicago, Setzer ran in the top-5 early before getting shuffled back in the pack. A clutch-related problem knocked the No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge out of the race and into 29th position. Setzer fell back to ninth in the standings as a result.

"I can't say whether or not there was anything different we or the Keselowskis could have done," Richards said. "They did have a good season last year and some bad luck this year. Maybe we caused some of those problems with the engine trouble we had early in the season."

Still, that didn't change the ultimate decision as Dodge's high profile NASCAR Winston Cup Series program that is scheduled to debut in 2001 seems to have raised the bar for the manufacturer across the board.

"We looked at all the teams out there, both those running Dodges and non-Dodge products, before we made our selection," Richards said. "Overall, we feel the selection we made for 2001 will give us the best chance at winning a championship."

Dodge currently has a major support role in five teams, including the Keselowskis, the No. 43 Petty Enterprises truck driven by Steve Grissom, the No. 86 and No. 25 Impact Motorsports trucks driven by Scott Riggs and Randy Tolsma and the No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge of Joe Ruttman.

The announcement was a stake to the heart of the Keselowskis. Bob Keselowski has been a Mopar devotee for virtually his entire racing career, going back to his short track days before he ran Mopar products in the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series and then in the NCTS.

"I guess they really expected to have another shot at the championship, like we did last year," Bob Keselowski said, pausing to take a deep breath before he continued. "That raised the expectations and we have had a lot of little failures this year that took us out of the running. I don't think you could point your finger at any one thing -- it's probably all of our faults."

Despite four engine failures and a devastating crash at New Hampshire that resulted in a next-to-last place finish and a broken shoulder blade for Setzer; the team is still in the top-10 in points.

"I thought we were good to go for at least another year," Bob Keselowski said. "But they want to win a championship pretty bad."

Keselowski said his organization was unsure of its plans to continue in the series only because it had been delivered the news by Dodge at Chicago Motor Speedway this weekend. He said Dodge had made an offer of limited support in 2001 and that his operation, which has a new shop and a fleet of 11 trucks, along with what he called "some really good people," would continue with Dodge Rams.

"We're going to have to re-evaluate our operation and see what we can and cannot do," he said. "We'll have to seek other sponsorship. We will start the season in 2001, but without a sponsor you can't run in this series."

"It's an unfortunate deal for the team because the Keselowskis have put together quite a team here," said Setzer, who for K Automotive won once in 1998, three times last season and who has a lone victory, at Nazareth Speedway, in 2000. "They'll continue on, though, because they are racers.

"The situation has been great for me and I appreciate everyone that's been involved. There's a lot of opportunities in the truck series and it's a fun series. I definitely want to be in the truck series because it's a good program. I think it's gonna last a lot of years to come and grow and get better."

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Greg Biffle , Dennis Setzer , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Randy Tolsma , Steve Grissom