Homestead: Pre-race news and notes

Three-man championship race goes down to wire at Homestead. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 12, 2002) - Play the hand or fold it. There's nothing else left to do as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winds up its 2002 season Friday with the Ford 200...

Three-man championship race goes down to wire at Homestead.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 12, 2002) - Play the hand or fold it.

There's nothing else left to do as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winds up its 2002 season Friday with the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Three drivers - all veterans but none a past NASCAR champion - have a shot at the series title. Mike Bliss (No. 16 IWX Motor Freight/Knights Inn Chevrolet), heads the pack - but not by much.

Bliss, with five victories, has been on top after each of the past nine races but has seen a reasonably comfortable lead of 85 points on Oct. 13 erode to just 32.

"We've got a good, old-fashioned NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points race heading into Miami," said Bliss, whose best finish in four appearances at the 1.5-mile banked paved oval was a second place in 1997.

Closest to Bliss is Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Ford). Crawford finished third to Bliss' ninth last week at Phoenix International Raceway to record his 12th top-five finish of the 2002 season. Homestead has a special place in Crawford's memory: he scored his only NASCAR Craftsman Truck victory there in April 1998, 119 races ago.

Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge), who trails Bliss by 72 points after his runner-up finish at Phoenix, also remains in the championship picture. Musgrave, No. 2 a year ago to three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion Jack Sprague, is the defending winner of the Ford 200.

Bliss controls his own destiny. Any finish of fifth (155 points) or better will lock up the title. He also can prevail simply by starting the Ford 200 if Crawford finishes 26th or worse and Musgrave 13th or worse and neither rival leads a lap.

Crawford can win the championship, even if Musgrave wins the race and leads the most laps. To do so, he'll have to finish among the top six.

The 2002 season marks the fifth time that three or more drivers remained in the championship picture entering the final race. The spread among the top three is second closest in NASCAR Craftsman Truck history. In 1999, the margin was 25 with Sprague taking the crown by eight from a deficit of 21. That season marked the only time that the leader entering the final race - Greg Biffle - failed to hold the lead.


* Bliss has company ... Ron Hornaday Jr. will drive a second Xpress Motorsports Chevrolet, partnering Bliss at Homestead. Hornaday, whose only start of the 2002 season came at Daytona International Speedway, was the 1996 and 1998 NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion.

* Jolly old NASCAR ... The United Kingdom's John Mickel will attempt to become the first Englishman to compete in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mickel failed to qualify for the Nov. 8 Chevy Silverado 150 at Phoenix International Raceway. The Ford 200 entry list truly is an international one with drivers entered from the UK (Mickel), Australia (Adam Clark - No. 45 Richard Petty Driving Experience Dodge), Canada (Randy MacDonald - No. 72 Chevrolet) and Mexico (Carlos Contreras - No. 43 Hot Wheels Dodge).

* Movin' on up ... Contreras and Coy Gibbs (No. 20 MBNA Chevrolet) will make their final regular appearances in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this weekend. Both move to the NASCAR Busch Series in 2003. Contreras also is entered in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series race, the Ford 300, driving for the Hispanic Racing Team (HRT).

* Champion for a fifth time ... Chevrolet captured its fifth NASCAR Craftsman Truck manufacturer title at Phoenix on the strength of Kevin Harvick's victory. Chevrolet won the series' first four titles. This season marked the latest the trophy has been clinched. Harvick is the fifth competitor to win on all three of NASCAR's national tours. He joins Bobby Hamilton, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Ken Schrader.

* Other positions at stake this week ... The battle for position - and money - is intense everywhere you look among the top-22 drivers entering the 2002 finale. Fourth-place David Starr (No. 75 Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet) has a six-point advantage over fifth-place Jason Leffler (No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge) with Dennis Setzer (No. 46 ACXIOM/Makita Chevrolet) sixth, another 45 behind. Forty-two points cover 18th through 22nd, positions currently occupied by Steve Portenga (No. 39 Roto-Rooter Chevrolet), Lance Hooper (No. 86 JJ Baker Custom Homes Chevrolet), Brian Rose (No. 51 Ware Racing Enterprises Dodge), MacDonald and Jason Small (No. 07 Sunbelt Rentals Chevrolet).

* No repeat winners at Homestead-Miami ... No competitor has been able to post a second win at Homestead, where five of six previous winners captured their first victories. No series champion has won at the track.

* Champion's accolades quickly follow ... The 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion's Awards Banquet will be held Saturday night at the Bal Harbour Beach Resort in nearby Bal Harbour, Fla.


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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Terry Labonte , Jason Leffler , Ken Schrader , David Starr , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Coy Gibbs , Carlos Contreras , Brian Rose , Rick Crawford , Richard Petty , Jason Small , Mike Bliss , Steve Portenga , Mark Martin