Fontana Dodge RAM Heads to Big Time

Oct. 30, 1999 Fontana, CA (Oct. 21, 1999) - The year was 1975. Harvard dropout Bill Gates and a friend launched a fledgling computer company they named Microsoft. John Travolta made his television debut as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back ...

Oct. 30, 1999

Fontana, CA (Oct. 21, 1999) - The year was 1975. Harvard dropout Bill Gates and a friend launched a fledgling computer company they named Microsoft. John Travolta made his television debut as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter. The Cincinnati Reds beat the Boston Red Sox in the seventh game of the World Series. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won the Oscar for Best Picture. And Dodge won its last NASCAR championship.

Fast-forward to 1999. The stock market skyrocketed past 11,000. The U.S. women's soccer team won the coveted World Cup. The highly anticipated Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, grossed more than $426 million worldwide at the box office. And NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) driver Dennis Setzer is one race away from bringing Dodge its first NASCAR championship since 1975.

In one of the most significant motorsports announcements of the decade, the Dodge division of DaimlerChrysler announced on Oct. 14 in New York City that Dodge will return to NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition in the 2001 season after a 20-year absence. Dodge's two-car Dodge Intrepid entry will be spearheaded by Ray Evernham, former crew chief for three-time Winston Cup Champion Jeff Gordon.

While a number of factors led to Dodge's decision to return to Winston Cup racing - including the popularity of the series, Dodge's growing customer base, and lineup of high performance cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs - one major determinant was Dodge's NCTS success.

Dodge entered five teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1996 - the series' sophomore year - after taking a year to evaluate the series. Dodge was forced to play catch-up from the get-go, particularly in the areas of aerodynamics and engine development, and after a year devoted to on-track research and development, Dodge Motorsports earned its first NCTS win in 1997. Two years and seven victories later, Dodge will clinch its first NASCAR championship since 1975 if third-place Setzer earns 26 more points than the top two points leaders.

The down-to-the-wire battle for the championship is the result of Dodge's most successful truck season to date. With one race remaining on the 25-race calendar, Dodge has amassed four wins, 11 poles, 33 top-five finishes and 69 top-ten finishes. At this point in the '98 season, Dodge teams had earned one win, 12 top-fives and 32 top-tens, but had not yet qualified on the pole.

What's the catalyst behind the dramatic turnaround? The success can be chalked up to all of the components of the program coming together at the same time, and the strongest team chemistry that has been seen in NASCAR racing in recent years.

"We've participated in other forms of racing, and I can honestly say that I have never before seen chemistry at or near the level we see among our teams right now," said Bob Wildberger, Senior Manager NASCAR Racing DaimlerChrysler. "The personalities of the drivers, crew chiefs and owners blend together beautifully and play a tremendous role in the chemistry we have witnessed this season."

The current line-up of Dodge NCTS drivers has also taken note of the chemistry. "Look at the people involved in the Dodge program - Randy Tolsma, Dennis Setzer, Jimmy Hensley, Joe Ruttman and myself," said Stacy Compton, driver of the #86 RC Dodge. "It's a group of guys who really get along, and the teams get along. We discuss set-ups and strategies with each other and still compete for the win each weekend."

Continuous involvement by Dodge executives and engineers has allowed Setzer and Compton to battle down to the final race of the season for the 1999 championship. "Dodge gives us a lot more support than I've seen come out of any other factory deal," said Setzer. "Ford and General Motors' motorsports commitment is geared mostly toward Winston Cup. But with Dodge, the trucks get the full attention of the engineers and the executives. Each week the teams get together on a conference call to discuss ideas and concerns with the personnel at Dodge, and that helps keep the lines of communication open between the teams and Dodge."

STACY COMPTON CLAIMS 1999 BUD POLE AWARD Following the Bud Pole qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway, Stacy Compton claimed the most pole positions in the 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. With his six season poles, Compton claimed the $10,000 season-ending Bud Pole Award.

The award is a significant accomplishment for Compton and the RC team after switching from Ford to Dodge prior to the 1999 season. Although Compton has not won a race in 1999, he has led in championship points and been in contention for the win almost every weekend.

"The switch to Dodge in the off-season was a huge move and it paid off big time," said Compton. "We knew we were capable of winning a pole or two, but six? This says a lot about our team and their effort. Our goal each week has been to qualify up front and run up front, especially on the shorter tracks. The pole at Michigan was awesome because it was in Dodge's backyard." Dodge has won ten pole positions this season (Compton 6, and Setzer, Tolsma, Hensley and Bobby Hamilton one each), and at seven races has qualified Dodge Rams on the front row.

DODGE RAM FAST STATS After the Oct. 14 race at Texas Motor Speedway

Dennis Setzer, #1 Mopar Dodge 1 pole, 3 wins, 11 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes Started second in Texas, finished third $444,740 total winnings in 24 NCTS starts Third in championship points - 25 points from first

Stacy Compton, #86 RC Dodge 6 poles, 0 wins, 11 top-fives, 16 top-10 finishes Started 12th in Texas, finished fifth $333,970 total winnings in 24 NCTS starts Fourth in championship points - 135 points from first

Jimmy Hensley, #43 Dodge By Petty 1 pole, 1 win, 7 top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes Started ninth in Texas, finished 14th $278,510 total winnings in 24 NCTS starts Ninth in championship points

Randy Tolsma, #25 Supergard Dodge 1 pole, 0 wins, 2 top-five finishes, 10 top-10 finishes Started 14th in Texas, finished fifth $214,985 total winnings in 24 NCTS starts 11th in championship points

Joe Ruttman, #18 Dana Dodge 0 wins, 2 top-five finishes, 8 top-10 finishes Started 12th in Texas, finished seventh $148,230 total winnings in 18 NCTS starts 21st in championship points

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Stacy Compton , Dennis Setzer , Joe Ruttman , Randy Tolsma , Jimmy Hensley , Ray Evernham