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Dodge Ram championship hunt comes down to final three races. FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 2002) - The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series begins its final three races to determine a 2002 driver, manufacturer and rookie champion this weekend at ...

Dodge Ram championship hunt comes down to final three races.

FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 2002) - The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series begins its final three races to determine a 2002 driver, manufacturer and rookie champion this weekend at California Speedway, and Dodge figures to be in the hunt of all three battles. 

Ted Musgrave, driver of the No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Ram, ranks third and is the top-Dodge in the driver's points standings after 19 races this year.  Musgrave has ranked in the top-three after a total of 16 races throughout 2002.  This weekend he returns as the track champion at California Speedway where he nearly sealed his bid as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points champion in last year's season finale.  Musgrave's win was his series-high seventh of the season, and pulled him to second place in the final standings - a mere 73 points from his first NASCAR championship.  The Franklin, Wis., NASCAR veteran will use a familiar strategy to try and gain the 50 points per race he needs to close in on this year's points leader and take over first place in the standings.

"When the green flag dropped last year, the leaders took off and I just took my time getting through traffic," Musgrave said. "Our lap times were just as good, if not better than the leaders and, sure enough, the leaders took themselves out later in the race. I think I won because I was just bidding my time, trying to be patient.

"That's the great thing about Fontana, it's a big racetrack and you can take your time. You don't have to pounce on something right off the bat. Last year I hung in there and kind of plotted my way to the front. Once the early leaders, Jack Sprague and Scott Riggs, were out of it, that opened the door for me to fend off Rick Crawford and a few others for the win. We're hoping to use the same strategy to win again this year."

The fact that Brendan Gaughan and the No. 62 NAPA/Orleans Racing team have been legitimate Raybestos Rookie of the Year contenders this year isn't a surprise, but the dominance that the team has shown in vying for the honor has turned more than a few heads.  Gaughan earned his second career win at Texas in September, making him one of only three drivers to have earned multiple victories in his rookie year.  Gaughan has been the top-qualifying rookie in nine races this year, and has been the top-finishing rookie in 13 races.  The Las Vegas native is a virtual lock in the Raybestos Rookie race with a 68-point lead over fellow Dodge teammate Bill Lester. Gaughan comes to California 11th in the drivers points standings, eyeing the top-10 ranking that he first secured this year with his win at Texas in June.

"We're going out to win this thing," Gaughan said.  "There's no better way to shore up a deal as we're looking for a new sponsor, and show off our thanks to Dodge for signing us for next year than to show them that we can win more races than any other Dodge team.  We want to prove that we're going to be contenders next year."

"One of the keys to running at Fontana is, quite simply, to have some balls," Gaughan continued.  "You've got to be able to drive into turn one and turn three with some skill.  It's not like Daytona or Texas where you're always on the gas.  Fontana is the type of place that dares you to flat-foot it.  You can't do it, but it dares you to.  If you get a little greedy in the turns and go in too deep, you'll lose your truck in the center and have to try it again next time.  That's the fun thing about California Speedway, you have to lift off the gas and drive the track.  It's a lot of fun."

Finally, Dodge took an early lead in the manufacturer's points standings with three quick wins in the series' first four races, but is now 13 points out of the lead with three races left.  In order to clinch a second straight manufacturer's championship, Dodge will need some help from Ford to keep Chevy out of the top-two competing makes in the next three races.


* The Dodge teams of Ultra Motorsports have an average qualifying position of 3.8.  Jason Leffler earned his eighth pole of the season at Richmond, while Ted Musgrave has started from the pole four times this year.  Leffler has led in 14 races this year (more than any driver in the series), and the two teammates combine for a total of 1095 laps led - nearly a third of the total laps run this year.

* In last year's race at California, Ted Musgrave won from the 12th position - the farthest back that any California winner had started.  Musgrave became the first Dodge driver to win at the track, and his 185 points earned on the day allowed him to move from fourth to second in the 2001 final points standings.  The win was the 15th of the year for Dodge, and helped the manufacturer earn its first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Manufacturers Championship by a margin of 22 points over runner-up Chevy.  Scott Riggs earned the pole that day, but was involved in an accident early in the race and finished 32nd.  Musgrave, Riggs, Brian Rose and Joe Ruttman all led laps for Dodge.

* Brendan Gaughan finished another strong run at his hometown track in Las Vegas last week, finishing eighth. Besides being the top-finishing rookie for the 13th time (fifth consecutive race) this season, he was also the top-qualifying rookie for the ninth time in 2002.  He leads all rookies with 231 points, 73 points ahead of Dodge teammate Bill Lester.   With Lester and Gaughan, Dodge has had the top rookie qualifier in all 18 qualifying sessions.  (Qualifying was rained out in the July 27th race at Michigan).

Dodge in the Running...

* Driver Points Standings (Ted Musgrave 3rd - 2773 points, Jason Leffler 5th - 2701 points Robert Pressley 7th - 2660 points, and Brendan Gaughan 11th -2469 points)

* Manufacturer Points Standings (Dodge 120 points, Chevy 133 pts, Ford 108 pts)

* Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings (Brendan Gaughan 1st - 227 pts, Bill Lester 2nd -159 points)

* 1379 laps led out of 3351 laps on the year (41.2%)

After 19 races this year, Dodge Rams have earned:
* Six wins
* 11 poles
* 31 top-fives
* 57 top-10s
* Over $2.77 million in winnings


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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Jason Leffler , Robert Pressley , Ted Musgrave , Jack Sprague , Brian Rose , Scott Riggs , Joe Ruttman , Bill Lester , Brendan Gaughan